By those within and outside the church, this Sunday is commonly designated Easter Sunday. While that designation is most certainly true it can also lead to an unfortunate reduction in the historic observance and celebration of Easter. Contemporary observances of Easter–both within and outside the church–often reductionistically focus on just one Sunday designated Easter. Like with
many Christmas celebrations, it’s here today and gone tomorrow. But this is not the way the vast majority of Christians have and will celebrate Easter. Historically and traditionally Easter–similar to Christmas–is an extensive celebration lasting fifty days and has come to be known as the time of Eastertide. This Sunday is actually the first Sunday of Easter and there will be seven more after it. For the next seven weeks we will sing pointed songs about the resurrection and begin the service with the Easter refrain: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Easter is the fifty-day period of feasting
While Lent was the forty-day period of fasting, Easter is the fifty-day period of feasting. One writer from another generation noted, “Easter Sunday and Christmas Day; the two best days for the stomach (O’ Sullivan, 6 Apr. 1828). Likewise, dating back to the fourth century, the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) which is usually thought of as a council that took up the trinity and the divine nature of Christ–which it did–also weighed in on Easter celebrations when it ruled that during the period of Easter two practices commonly kept during the rest of the year were forbidden: fasting and kneeling.
N.T. Wright gets at this when he suggests:
But my friends, we are Easter people! We stand on resurrection ground. Easter is not only our greatest party (much greater by the way than Christmas—whatever you do on Christmas you ought to do ten times as much at Easter); Easter is the only reason we are here at all! St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Without Easter, Jesus of Nazareth would be a curious historical footnote. Without Easter, the world would still be divided into waiting Jews and puzzled pagans.
So why, when we get to Easter Day, do we not celebrate wildly, lavishly, gloriously, at great length, and with studied disregard for normal propriety?
I don’t know how you do it here, but in my tradition today, alas, after forty days of Lenten fasts, and three days of deep and serious concentration on the meaning of the cross, we have precisely one morning of Easter festivities. And then people disappear, exhausted by the rigors of Holy Week, the clergy go on holiday, and the only celebration that is left is eating up the remains of the chocolate Easter eggs!
No, we should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place.
And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”
So during this Easter rejoice! Celebrate the victory of God. Hopefully we will come to look forward to Eastertide and not just Easter. Roll tide. Roll tide, roll.