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Monday, April 21, 2014

On Eastertide

I am still relatively new to the practice of observing the Church Year and worshipping in a congregation guided by the Revised Common Lectionary. As a Baptist of Southern Baptist heritage I was largely unaware that there were seasons through which the Church progressed each year; actually I was only aware of Advent, and that was because the Catholic church in town placed these massive oil candles in the churchyard during that time of year.

Ever since Dr. Terry York presented the tradition of the Church Year and the cycle of the Lectionary to me in his Christian Worship class, though, I’ve been increasingly convinced that such a rhythm of life and such a connection to the world-wide Christian communion is not only within the scope of my Baptist principles but also may help my generation of Baptist pastors move our congregation beyond the Fundamentalist/Moderate controversy on which we teethed.

My congregation’s practice of observing the Church Year has recently taken us into the wilderness of Lent with our Lord. During these six Sundays our congregation has taken great pains to concentrate on our need for God’s sustenance and provision. We have called out our sins and meditated on our sinfulness. We have concluded that we are in need of a Savior, for who can rescue us from this body of death? We journeyed, painstakingly, agonizingly, slowly toward the Cross.

We intentionally neglected the joy of Easter, a joy we know would come. We knew that the tomb would be empty, that the Lord would at last defeat death and open for us the path to eternal life. We ignored that as best we could, though, so as to know our need and our thirst for that Lord and for his Life. We seemed to be surrounded by death, by prayers of renewal and by songs of lament.

Easter came - oh Glory did it come! We sang; we SANG! We sang old Baptist hymns and Handel’s “Messiah.” We read John’s account of the resurrection and we prayed amidst the chirping of birds and the palpable new life of spring. We worshipped.

But then Easter ended.

I went home and scattered plastic eggs for my toddler to find; I ate lamb with my Greek family members; I napped. But after all of that I had to pack my bag and prepare for another week of reality. This time there was no Lenten restriction to help me hunger through the day - all was resurrected joy and consummation.

The Church Year calls this time “Eastertide.” The seven Sundays after Resurrection Day form a happy antithesis to the Lenten season: whereas Lent is denial and despondency, Eastertide is joy and astonishment and the heavy exhale of a people who no longer fear death. The Church Year makes Easter the hinge, the high-water-mark of the story of Jesus and of all Christian life. We have the tough, long slough to the Cross before and the downhill road back to Emmaus from the empty tomb.

The passages for Eastertide are the other side of the Easter story, too. Suddenly we find bold, testifying disciples where cowards had recently stood. We read of the Hebrew Scriptures being understood in light of a new revelation of God through Jesus Christ. We see the Church being born after preaching that this same miracle-working, Kingdom-proclaiming Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Easter did in fact end. The event that we celebrated last Sunday was one single moment in history. But the consequences, the fallout from that miraculous day take more than one sermon or Bible study to work out. Here, here is where we begin to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling.” Here, in Eastertide, is where we begin to understand our new, re-created, forgiven identities in Christ.

I think of this season of Eastertide as a return from exile. In the first chapters of Ezra we read of the return of the Babylonian captives to Jerusalem. Can you imagine the joy that spread throughout the community when word came down from Cyrus that they could return home? What a celebration! They were showered with gifts and money and good things with which to re-establish God’s Temple and their society. What a critical, hinge moment for the Exiles.

Ezra recounts that there was a great celebration once the Exiles returned. There were special offerings and festivals and sacrifices. Soon, though, people noticed that there was no foundation upon which to rebuild the Temple. The celebration had to be modulated and actual work had to begin. If the Exiles were to truly be reunited with their God, they would need to understand and address the consequences, the fallout of their return.

This is the season for Christians to address the cosmic, eternal, and ultimately personal meaning of Easter. This is the season to not only confess sin, but to deal with it. This is the season to no longer point out the rubble of former temples; this is the season to clear the land and build upon the One Foundation.

So, to borrow from the artist Bastille, “where to we begin? The rubble or our sins?” Let’s get to work. It’s Eastertide.

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