Fifty Days of unbridled rejoicing
As the month of April began, we observed the last few days of Lent culminating in Holy Week giving way to the Easter celebration. This year was especially poignant being the first observance of Holy Week and Easter since 2019. Nevertheless, this Lent was like most other Lenten observance. I liken Lent to a marathon and Holy Week is the last mile which is always the hardest, so I’m told, having never attempted to run a 26-mile course myself. We all know the penitential nature of Lent with all the bowing and scraping and contrition for our sins. It takes endurance and persistence to keep our focus and maintain our discipline for the 40 long days of the Church’s most penitential season of the year. But the finish line we cross, which is Easter Day, gives way to the great Fifty days of Eastertide. For many Christians, having reached Easter is all that matters; the finish line having been crossed. But for many other Christians, Easter Day is not the finish line, but, rather, the start of a whole new journey. The counterpart to this, both culturally and liturgically, is the season of Christmas. Christmas celebrations don’t end on Dec. 25, but rather, begin. The Feast of the Incarnation inaugurates the 12 days of Christmas culminating on twelfth night, Jan. 6, The Feast of the Epiphany.
If we thought we needed endurance to make it through Lent, it was just good training for the energy we would need to celebrate for 50 straight days culminating on the 50th day, The Feast of Pentecost. It’s a time to celebrate and give thanks for the victory of Jesus Christ and his glorious resurrection. Eastertide is the season of unbridled rejoicing. All that penance of Lent was our spiritual training for the prolonged celebration of Eastertide. Lent, filled with all its kneeling, contrition, confession and penance, gives way to the exuberance of Eastertide. In the ancient church, Easter was so sacrosanct and a season marked primarily by joy, that it was actually forbidden for the faithful to kneel during the great 50 days of unbridled rejoicing. To that end, in my own parish, we omit the general confession, and pepper the liturgy liberally with the great Easter shout of Alleluia. It is one gigantic party that lasts 50 days. But for many in our world we find that too hard. In the words of Jewish scholar and author Abraham Heschel, “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state—it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or spectacle…Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s action.” If Lent took fortitude and perseverance, Eastertide takes focus and tenacity of a whole different sort. And in contrast to last year’s Easter, this one is imbued with even deeper joy when we can step out into life in a way we haven’t been able to do for over a year. What a joyful Eastertide indeed.
THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector at Emmanuel Episcopla Church in Franklin. Contact him at 757-562-4542.