Dear Friends in Christ
Times tides and seasons wait for no man, so they say. Well, over the Easter period, there is certainly is an interruption of normal routines for those who take their Christian faith seriously.
It has been hectic, tiring and, for those who have fully participated I think very fulfilling. No-one has said very much to me, but thanks to some very dedicated people working extremely hard, I think the services have gone very well.
A small group has enjoyed the experience of studying together and discovering new facets of their faith.
A larger group has faithfully attended all of the services over Holy Week, walking with Jesus through his time of trial and suffering. Those people have experienced in the fullest way possible, the joy of the resurrection.
But now that’s it for another year. But of course it isn’t. First there has been Easter Week. Easter Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Easter Saturday, followed by the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Properly called the ‘Octave’ – eight days, this has been described as ‘The Week of Sundays.’ (NB no matter what the supermarkets and TV schedules say, Easter Saturday comes after Easter and is not the Saturday before, which is Holy Saturday!)
So important is this combination of Holy Week, followed by the Octave, that no other celebration or Saints day is allowed to interrupt it. This is the reason why St George’s Day was transferred from April 23rd to April 24th – the first available Day after Holy Week and the Octave.
I was challenged about this in the butchers shop! ‘How can the Church dictate when we celebrate our National day?’ I was asked. Well, the only answer is that it was the Church that set the day to celebrate St George through its calendar, the Church which sets the period of Easter and therefore the Church which moves St George’s Day.
This is yet another example of the growing gap between what the Christian Church teaches and what our supposedly Christian country does. How can we claim to be a Christian country when even those who regularly attend worship fail to attend on Good Friday, the most solemn of days in the Christian year? No wonder we are losing ground in the secularist stakes!
But anyway, back to Easter! Even after the Octave, Easter is not over. Reading this Blog, you may well be surprised that this is another article about Easter! Surely you might think, Easter is all over isn’t it? The world certainly thinks so. Easter cards and Easter eggs are all gone, making space for the ‘Holiday and Summer Seasonal items’ as read a new notice in a local supermarket.
In fact the Easter season just begins with the Octave. Easter continues for fifty days ending on Pentecost. Easter celebrates the Resurrection (rising from death) of Christ on the third day after His death. “We are therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of God, we too may have a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in death, we will certainly be united with Him in His resurrection.” [Romans 6:4,5]
Easter was originally celebrated as one continuous festival, but in the fourth century the early church divided it into separate observances of the Resurrection, the Ascension, and Pentecost. The present date of Easter, which determines much of the rest of the church calendar, is fixed according to the Paschal Calendar (lunar based) developed in 527AD. Using this system, Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon falling on or after the first day of spring (March 21). Fixing Easter in such a manner causes it to fall at the same time as the Jewish Passover, since the first Easter coincided with that feast.
Easter is the oldest of Christian festival days. In many respects every Sunday is an Easter celebration. Easter was originally called "Pascha" after the ancient Hebrew word meaning "Passover" linked to the spring harvest in Palestine, the celebration of the ‘Passing over of the Angel of Death’ as the Egyptian Pharaoh refuse to ‘Let God’s People Go.’ (Exodus Ch 12).
The title, Easter, is a derived from the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess, "Eostre," whose festival occurred at the annual vernal equinox. Springtime is a wonderful time to coincide with the Paschal Celebration. It is as though the grass the trees, everything is sharing in the resurrection of Christ.
The Welsh poet Saunders Lewis puts this wonderfully well. This poem is called ‘Ascension Thursday’ but it does I think, speak supremely of the Spring illustrating the celebration of the Resurrection.
What’s going on in the hills, this May morning?
Look at it all, the gold on the broom and the laburnum,
The shoulders of the thorntree bright with its surplice,
The ready emerald of grass, the quiet calves;
The chestnut trees have their candlesticks alight,
Hedgerows are kneeling, the birch is still as a nun,
The cuckoo’s two notes over the hush of bright streams
And a ghost mist bending away from the mead’s censer;
From the council houses men come — Oh come out before
The rabbits all scatter With the weasel come and see
A wafer immaculate lifted from the earth
And the Father kiss the Son in the white dew.
Seen from one point of view the poem is a description of that miraculous moment in the early morning in springtime in the countryside, which everything in our current urban way of life seems to conspire to keep us from experiencing. The brightness, the silence, the cuckoo’s reiterated call, the mist rising up from the meadows, the animals themselves apparently in some kind of hushed expectation. But looked at again we notice that we are present in the church’s liturgy, present indeed at the moment of consecration in a High Mass.
The surpliced servers kneel at the altar step, the candles burn steadily in the candle-stand, the smoke of the incense rises as the censer is swung, the sound of the sacring bell rings out across the silence, the celebrant lifts up the host for the adoration of the people. And the Father kisses the Son in the white dew.
Easter Sunday is the most joyful day of the Christian year, but it just the beginning of learning, as did the first disciple, what it means to ‘Live the Resurrection Life.’ Throughout Eastertide we continue to wear gold celebratory vestments. In our readings we explore the deeper meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. The Easter Candle remains in its place of honour in the sanctuary. Christ the Risen Light of the World is amongst his people. Throughout Eastertide we bask in his light.
The chocolate may be gone. But enjoy; continue to celebrate.
This is the longest season in the Christian year, recognising the centrality of Easter in the Christian story of our salvation. Throughout that fifty day period our readings and worship themes help us to unravel what all of this means to us as we journey through life, and how we view that life in relation to God. We may take our time in catching up – but maybe after all the time & tide of the Christian year is waiting for us!
Happy (ongoing) Easter!