Absorbing Easter hope takes effort

13 April 2017

THE latest liturgical publications urge us not to let Easter end on Easter Day. Easter is the beginning of the Great Fifty Days, “a single festival period in which the tone of joy created at the Easter Vigil is sustained through the following seven weeks”.

At least, that is the theory according to Common Worship: Times and Seasons. It is not so easy in practice, though, especially with the immediate Bank Holiday, the Vicar “off” on Low Sunday, and — depending on the date of Easter, one school term ending, holidays, and a new term starting to interrupt the period.

All of this might lead us to conclude that Easter is a terrible time to celebrate Easter. But I suppose that is part of the point. Our time is always “ordinary”, and God’s time interrupts it. It remains a challenge, though, to keep the Paschal flavour of the fifty days right through to Pentecost, in spite of much repeating of the “A” word that I am not allowed to write, let alone say, as I am writing this for publication before the end of Passiontide.

Easter, in the 1662 Prayer Book, is a sombre business — more an invitation to a reformed life than an outburst of new hope. There are few liturgical changes to mark the Paschal season: a proper preface is provided at communion, and the Venite is replaced by the Easter Anthems on Easter Day.

Although the Prayer Book has five Sundays after Easter, and special readings for the Monday and Tuesday in Easter Week, it drops nearly all reference to the resurrection of Christ by the Second Sunday. The theology is downbeat: Christ is raised for our justification, and the gate of everlasting life is open, but we enter it only after death. So much for seven weeks of Eastertide. Ascension Day and Whit Sunday are separate festivals, not part of the whole.

There is good sense, as well as ancient practice, in extending the Easter period, and ensuring that the season of joy is longer even than Lent. But I expect that many of us are still, at heart, Prayer Book people, all too ready to revert to “normal” once the Easter lilies have faded.

It takes effort to absorb joy and hope. All those readings from Acts through Eastertide don’t help. All that gospel excitement and mission make our pathetic efforts seem tawdry.

But Acts is not our only biblical resource for the Easter period. This is where we need to dig deeply into the St John’s Gospel and St Paul’s epistles in anticipation of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Easter Anthems, said daily, as Common Worship Morning Prayer allows, provide an antidote to the ordinary and encourage our rejoicing.

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