Food Enough for Fifty Days!
D. Jay Koyle
It is time for us to uncover one of the Church’s great buried treasures: the fifty-day Season of Easter.
Year after year, most of our congregations devote significant effort to observing the forty days of Lent. Penitential rites, music programs, and special attention to the worship space are carefully orchestrated as part of the season’s score. Extra study groups and featured guest speakers add their voice to the polyphonic texture of parish activities. All of this crescendos to the packed pews of the First Sunday of Easter and its grand chorus of celebration.
Yet, one week later, in far too many churches, little more than an echo of this refrain remains. The birth pangs of new life seem more like false labour. As one liturgist observed, “…the Easter lilies in the sanctuary seem left carrying the entire load of exalting in the Risen Christ. As they wilt, so does the season.”
Why do so many parishes give little more than a passing nod to Easter as a season, some even snubbing it altogether?
Perhaps we have simply fallen out of the habit. It may be that clergy, musicians, and other liturgical leaders channel so much energy preparing for the great feasts that they find their batteries drained by the time the sanctuary lights are switched off at the end of the day. No doubt, our culture’s tendency to anticipate holidays through commercial campaigns, concerts, and TV specials plays no small part as well.
Yet, this is all the more reason for us to attend to the Church Year and its capacity to form us in the life of the gospel.
In their wisdom, our ancestors in faith followed a forty-day period of penitence and baptismal preparation with a fifty-day festival, a time of joyful exultation that they regarded as one ongoing feast, one ‘great Sunday.’ These days were shaped by the Luke-Acts narrative of the Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost. They were flavoured by John’s notion that the Spirit is breathed upon us whenever we encounter the Risen Christ. They were charged with eschatological hope; the notion of Sunday as the Eighth Day – the dawn of the new creation in which the baptized participate – found sustained expression in the fifty days, a week of weeks plus a day. Overall, the observance of these days fostered a sense of vibrancy amongst the Faithful that was contagious.
I am utterly convinced that observing Easter as a season would prove at least as vital to our spiritual wellbeing as does our faithful embrace of Lent. Our ecclesial diet requires feasting upon the fruits of joy and hope as much as it does fasting in self-discipline.
Easter is the time when we can know in our bones and muscles, not just our minds, that we are new creatures in Christ, set free to live the new life that is his. Easter is the time when, with the newly baptized and those reconciled through baptismal renewal, we can discover and celebrate in new and profound ways what it means to be joined to Christ and his Body as baptized people of God.
So, Sunday by Sunday throughout the season, feast upon Easter hymns and “Alleluia’s” to excess. Include the asperges in your gathering rite each week and remember your baptism. Take time to gather outside of worship and reflect upon the symbols and sacraments central to our celebration of Resurrection life: water, bread and wine, Chrism oil, cross, biblical stories, paschal candle, and the gathered people. Be sure to enjoy meals and party together, too.
I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of setting the Table only to wander off just as the main course gets underway. There is food enough for fifty days, and I’m ready for a feast!
Jay Koyle is past president of The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission. He is a presbyter ministering as Congregational Development Officer of the Diocese of Algoma (Anglican), and serving as chair of Faith, Worship and Ministry for The Anglican Church of Canada.
“The miraculous draught of fishes” and “The raising of Lazarus” by John Reilly.
This post is a revision of a column that appeared in the April 2017 edition of the Algoma Anglican.