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.