After Easter………What’s Next?

There was an interesting discussion a week ago during the staff evaluation and assessment of the Easter season in the parish, where I minister. The discussion delved deeper than the usual “what we did well,” and “what we could do better” in our observance of Easter. The crux of the conversation turned around the question of whether or not the integrity of the Easter season could be truly held together for fifty days. For not a few of the staff it seemed impractical, if not impossible to expect anyone to be “all that joyful……..for FIFTY DAYS!”

Most difficult was the reality that in the United States other holidays, like Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, or significant life moments, like graduations, compete with a season that after week three moves beyond empty tomb and appearances to discussions of the theological and eschatological meaning of Christ’s resurrection. This latter turn challenges even the most skilled homilist to sustain the connection between familiar images of Jesus emerging from the tomb with a return to the Last Supper and Jesus’ prayer that love, hope and unity will define the community of his followers. For some in the assembly the wilting or absence of lilies by the close of week two and the focus on summer events in parish life signal the retreat of Easter to its proper place as a harbinger of springtime, sufficient for one day’s celebration.

Most remarkable in the course of this discussion was a comment made by one of the pre-school faculty. When asked how the pre-school maintained an Easter focus among its student body of two to five- year olds, she responded simply that they did not. Easter-themed images decorated the halls and classrooms of the facility two weeks before Easter Sunday. These were all removed when the school reopened after a week-long break following Holy Week. Asked if it might be possible next year to keep up these images (albeit predominantly of the cultural associations with Easter, which for a two to five-year old could serve as a cursory introduction to the feast) throughout the Easter season, the response was no. She did not want to present an image of Easter that was not present in the children’s homes.

Now by this, she did not mean that the childrens’ homes embraced a more theological or liturgical experience of Easter, which would conflict with cultural representations of Easter. Nor did she think celebrating the Fifty Days to be wrong. Rather, she believed that for many if not all of the families attending the pre-school, Easter was Easter Sunday, a fitting end to Lent, and to prolong it might appear odd or at least difficult to understand.

A remarkable statement, indeed, and one that appears to capture in a unique way the dilemma faced by believers not only as they journey through the Easter season, but even more in this post-Easter period of the calendar. These past days see believers “descending the heights of Easter,” but the question that lies underneath this descent is: “Where to?” Is Easter a terminus ad quem or a terminus a quo for we who believe? Wrapping up Easter neatly with a red-splashed celebration of Pentecost only to get on with the rest of life seems to be a shallow assessment of the foundational premise of our faith, and even more problematic than concluding Easter with Easter Sunday.

So Easter must be always a terminus a quo for those who dare to believe. Easter does not, and cannot, deliver a neatly wrapped package, which serves as either a respite or reward for good Lenten behavior. It is a challenge; the most powerful and significant of all challenges we human beings face. Easter reveals the lens through which we view all of reality, our destiny as human beings, and why God so passionately desires a relationship with us at all. If we fail to descend from Easter’s heights with resurrection not somehow front and center in our minds and hearts then Easter loses it efficacious power to spur us on to new hopes, and dreams, and truths. Such power does not last one day or fifty days. It should becomes a power that redefines for us over and over what it means to be human and how to live in this world with our hearts and minds attuned to the world to come.

Faith does not permit us to box up feasts and seasons once we come to a date in the calendar. Every feast and season speaks to us of the Paschal Mystery, of the passage from all that entraps and demeans us to all that gives life and dignity and value and worth to us. Easter is that great climactic event that makes the power of this passage irreversible. The great challenge is believing this is possible at all. It must begin with the youngest among us, shaping their perspectives and experiences by the light of resurrection, that they may grow believing and thinking not as the world does, but as God does, and by this gift become a witness of hope and mercy to the world.

7 comments

  1. In England the second week of Easter is called Low Week. I think that represents the human reality. Look at how Jesus’ Disciples spent those 50 days. Joy certainly at first, and then uncertainty and confusion, we see them back in Gallilee with no idea what to do except return to normal life. And the Church holds these images up to us. “I’m going fishing!”. None of them dared ask him “Who are you?” “Why are you men standing around looking up into the sky?”

  2. How reviving is our weekly observance of Easter from our daily death to our old selves? Or is it more of just an opportune day to get more things on our lists done and get work done in advance of the full work week with fewer distractions? {Of course, church staff have an entirely different relationship to this and may not be quite as able to observe the fruits of the transformation of our culture in that regard.} That might be a more fundamental obstacle to nurturing any concept of even an Easter *week* (aka Bright Week among the Byzantines) let alone 40-50 days.

    I am sensitive to this because for all of my post-university working career (33 years), I have strained to get weekend chores/tasks largely done on Saturdays and resist the temptation to use Sundays to pre-chew weekly professional work. I don’t live with family, so this is both easier for me and more difficult, in different ways. I think this practice has been essential to maintaining some foundation of sanity. It is very silently and deeply countercultural.

    When I was a young child, I practiced to make my Easter candy – very much including the chocolate bunny – endure until Ascension. (This started back in the last years of the Paschal candle being extinguished right after proclamation of the Gospel of Ascension Day.)

  3. Thanks, Jim, for this report. I trust you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m highly interested in your on-the-ground parochial anecdotes, given my NAAL VP address. I’ll be watching the Reply section here too, in the same vein, which promises some further info and instights. So, again, my thanks for your post, for its clear descriptions and thoughtful reflection on a neuralgic point for liturgical theology (and pastoral liturgy).

  4. I can add that our weekday Mass attendance in Lent V is about three times higher than in Easter Week. From the fifth Sunday of Lent our church is very gloomy, with its gray brick walls and the ceiling high reredos covered by black shutters. In Easter Week the reredos is a blaze of gold and surrounded by red, gold and white, with impressive flower display in front of it (the walls hardly impinge on one’s awareness). But many people come to church for healing, and fewer return to offer thanks and express joy.

  5. Lent was a season of sacrifice and many of us were encouraged to make daily Mass our Lenten sacrifice. I once had a woman tell me that my Bible study was her Lenten sacrifice.
    Not many were encouraged to continue the encounter with the Risen One during Easter at daily Mass.
    I’m always surprised when people pray the Sorrowful Mysteries during Easter. It does not compute. But I guess it was what they were taught.

  6. Easter is a season which encompasses Easter Sunday and its octave, the Ascension, and Pentecost. Unfortunately, we rarely treat three as an unfolding of the Paschal Mystery in relation to each other.

  7. I cannot say what parishioners’ homes look like during any season of the year. But I do know that great efforts have been made to inculcate an appreciation for the liturgical seasons and feasts in our church home. One consequence regarding Easter is that on Pentecost Sunday my daily and weekly pre-Mass greeting of “Christ is Risen” is still responded to with a robust “He is truly risen!” Over the 50 days and its eight Sundays the sanctuary is beautifully appointed with floral displays that consists of more than wilting lillies. We use flowering spring plants and some silk lillies to keep the worship environment radiant. The prayers of the Mass and preaching communicate that we are in fact an Easter people who rejoice in celebrating what it means for our day to day lives that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and that Christ will come again.

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