Friday, April 9, 2010

Becoming Easter People

It has often seemed easier to me to enter into the more contemplative and penitential times of Advent and Lent then to live out Epiphany and Easter seasons more than a day. Advent’s themes of longing and waiting seem natural to the human condition both before salvation and as we await heaven. In Lent, even when the themes seem more difficult to practice, it seems obvious that, as they are disciplines after all, fasting, prayer, and alms-giving will take much effort and devotion. But Easter’s Octave and then season of 50 days spent in celebration and rejoicing? One day of victory and triumph, I can sustain, but how do we become an Easter people?

Four years past, we had celebrated such a glorious Easter after a dramatic Holy Week that Easter Monday seemed a major let down. Exhausted from a busy weekend, heavy in pregnancy, a toddler to occupy, and still a sink of dirty dishes from the feast the day before, I felt ready to give up the whole thing.
As I stared out the window, I asked the question, perhaps for the first time, what does the resurrection mean for my everyday life?  
And at that moment the CD player changed on its own as my toddler’s nursery rhymes came to an end and suddenly Vivaldi’s Gloria blared. Its proclamation of triumph was so strong, I could not resist picking up my little one and twirling and dancing around the room. And I learned a bit more about the work of the Easter people.

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”--John Paul II
Though there is a time for burying our “Allelulias” to seek Him in quiet and repentance, the liturgy of Easter declares this praise loudly again each Sunday. And as the church-domestic we continue the song of praise in our hearts, in our homes, in our lives. As the words of the Eucharistic prayer guide us,
“We remember his Death,
We proclaim his resurrection,
We await his coming in Glory.” (BCP, Holy Eucharist II, Prayer B)
Easter as a season rather than a day gives us the chance to bask in the glory of the resurrection and then move forward in its song.
“ …the days immediately after the Feast of the Resurrection most readily lend themselves to purposeful reflection. The drama of Holy Week remains vivid in our minds and the exuberance of Easter Day carries over. Let the exhilarating shock of the resurrection itself continue—the great reversal, the death of death, the shattered door, the harrowing of hell, the beautiful metamorphosis, the explosion of life! No metaphor measures up, no superlative suffices. As Madeline L’Engle once exclaimed about Easter, ‘ It is almost too brilliant for me to contemplate; it is like looking directly into the sun; I am burned and blinded by life.’” –Bobby Gross, Living the Church Year
To contemplate a thing so overwhelming and miraculous, one day is surely not enough. To learn to proclaim this resurrection, we must become an Easter people.
One of the gifts of the church year is its beautiful rhythm of permanence and change. Easter always comes, we are not left in the desert, we are not left even at the cross. We know the full story and it brings us hope. The Great Drama is one in which we know the ending and we need not despair. And though the story has been written, the Great Drama calls us to enter and be caught up in the story, calling us to find our story within the narrative of Christ’s, rather than merely seeking to fit God into our lives. This also means that what we learn this year will become part of how we celebrate next year. If my answers on how to live out Easter seem inadequate, I have the hope that as the cycle turns again I will be more of an Easter person than the year before.
And so, as each season has its own themes and disciplines, I ask of this Easter Season, how am I being called to go about “Practicing Resurrection”?
I have two beginnings of an answer. The Practice of Joy. The Practice of Beauty-Seeking.
The Practice of Joy. 

The Alleluia is no longer buried.

We look for occasion to sing together praise to our Lord. Listen to Handel’s Messiah, Vivaldi’s Gloria, and the Easter Hymns.
Easter Playlist

We seek to inhabit the resurrection in the midst of trying circumstances.
We laugh. We play. We give thanks.

I too often forget that unlike happiness, rejoicing is a choice.  We can learn to live it out more and more.  The Scriptures invite us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” And in light of The Victory over death and sin crushed, alleluia is our song.
And we celebrate. If in Lent we give up, in Easter we partake. We see food as a gift, eating as part of the Great Thanksgiving. And so in our home, during Easter I buy things I normally wouldn’t the rest of the year through. Waffles and whipped cream for breakfast. Everyday a special treat as part of the Garden of the Good Shepherd. Coke over ice and a lemon slice. Chocolate. My favorite bourbon.

Not to indulgence but to remember that all good gifts are from above and gifts from His Hand.

“[Easter] ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. It is any wonder people find hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? It is any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simple the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long over due that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system. And if it means rethinking some cherished habits, well, maybe it’s time to wake up.”
NT Wright, qtd at Story-formed

The Practice of Beauty-Seeking.
 “The resurrection of Jesus is a sign of God’s purpose and power to restore his creation to its full stature and integrity…In the aftermath of Gethsemane, we catch a scent of Eden…The resurrection is like the first day of a new creation.”-(Alistair McGrath, qtd in Bobby Gross, Living the Church Year)
And so on Easter morning, when we catch that scent of Eden, we refuse to let go. Like those little ones hunting the eggs, we are seeking, seeking to inhabit the new creation.

We seek beauty in the natural world. Our family finds hope of this new creation in time spent time out of doors—nature walks, picnicking, basking in the new life of spring…trying to catch the scent of Eden and the hope of glory.

Now redeemed, we see ourselves as participants in the redemption. We work the earth. Sow seeds. Pick fruit. Pull weeds. Beauty where it was once barren.

 Photos from last Easter Week, hopefully I'll have replacements from this Easter Week soon!
We place beauty all around us, decorating our home with signs of new life—flowers, alleluia banners, eggs and chicks and lambs, new icons and candles, white, white, white. We open wide the curtains to let the sun shine. Visual reminders all around saying, “Proclaim Resurrection, Proclaim Resurrection, Proclaim Resurrection.”

My Sister-in-laws Easter Tree

We find beauty in words. The poetry of resurrection… Berry, Hopkins, Herbert…The poetry of hope and spring…Teasdale, Longfellow, Wordsworth, Rosetti, Blake.

We seek to share that beauty with those around us. Delivering flowers, cards, cookies to our neighbors, mostly elderly, shut-in and alone. They smile in the delight of little ones, a gift of beauty themselves.

 Pictures with my grandparents on Easter.

An Easter people have life abundant. As we practice resurrection may alleluia be our song. May we proclaim it loud and long.

*Thank you to those of the Kind Conversation who have spurred these thoughts and encouraged the party to continue! I have already blessed by this community so much. Perhaps you too, might want to be a part of "a quiet place to share a vision of rhythm and beauty, holiness and joy."


Unknown said...

I am actually headed out the door and don't have time to read all of this post yet. But with just the first couple of paragraphs I'm saying "YES, YES, YES!" I need to read this. Other than eating as much chocolate as I wanted all week, I've been lost at how to practically live out this season. I desperately need to learn this because I can see the connection between the weakness of my theology of Resurrection and my understanding of this part of the Church Year. Thank you for sharing this and I look forward to reading it.

Sandy said...

"This also means that what we learn this year will become part of how we celebrate next year." I think this is part of what makes the liturgy so powerful. We move from season to season bringing the lessons with us.

Jennifer said...

Champagne & prayer...never thought of that!...

Very nice thoughts...we wait for his coming...Rejoice...

The next generation teaches us that life goes on...& we pass on our traditions...The living word is among us! Happy Easter!

Amy said...

Hey Tamara, I've been thinking a lot about the idea of the connection between our theology of the resurrection and the practice of Easter in the church year. Thanks for commenting and hope the post spurs you on!
Sandy, I'm glad you find this powerful too. I recently struggled to articulate to a group of college students why the practice of the church year didn't become rote was for this very reason. But perhaps it's only when we begin doing it and seeing it in our life that it becomes clear?
Hey mom, Wondered if anyone would pick up on the line about champagne and prayer! Perhaps it's only best for Bishops like Wright, not ordinary folks like us :-)!!!

(the Revd) Aaron Burt said...

Thanks for the post, Amy! A friend of mine sent the link on to me.

I'm an Anglican priest who is often talking and preaching about the importance of Easter Season--not just in our theology but in how we live our days. Jesus didn't simply say, "I came that they might stop sinning" but "I came that they might have LIFE and have it abundantly." I'm fond of reminding people that there's life after death to sin!

As it would turn out, I'm currently in the midst of a personal "experiment" that I have been thinking of as 100 Days of Fasting and Feasting. It's an attempt to think of Lent and Easter as a joined pair and spend all 96 days of those seasons living in active alignment with their themes and emphases.

I did a full fast through all of Lent (46 days in all, since my digestive system doesn't appreciate the subtleties of Sundays "in" Lent versus "of" Lent). That was no small feat, to be sure, but you are absolutely right to say that the disciplines of Lent are much simpler than the celebration of Easter--perhaps not "easier" but certainly "simpler". To begin with, Lent's companions are typically negative disciplines (i.e., disciplines of abstaining). The instructions for fasting could go something like this:

1. Um, don't eat anything.
2. Seriously, just don't eat anything.

But the instructions for celebrating could go on and on. 50 days of celebrating Easter is challenging it turns out. It requires exploration and frequent journeying into themes that are not everyday for me.

As a final note, I preached a sermon a week ago that fits nicely with what you are driving at in this post. Should you be interested, it can be found at the following link (and it's only 20 minutes!):

Also, my wife is an author, and one of her regular writing exercises is a rewriting of the Prayers of the People to incorporate the readings from the weekly lectionary (BCP). Some people use it in their private devotions as well. So here's a shameless plug for what I think is a worthwhile resource:

So that is a VERY long comment to say that I appreciated and enjoyed your post! May God continue to grant you and your family the grace to take on all 50 days of Easter--the grace of "becoming Easter people".

Easter tidings from my family to yours!

Aaron Burt+


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