If you grew up evangelical Protestant like me, the religious part of Easter stopped with the benediction Sunday morning. After that, the goal was to get sick on chocolate bunnies and jelly beans while spreading Easter grass all over the house – my goal, that is, not my parents’.
(An aside: do y’all still put Easter grass in children’s Easter baskets? Because that is masochistic.)
Even adults in evangelical churches don’t think of Easter as a season though. Once the day is over, it’s back to business as usual. In fact, some churches don’t have Good Friday services, so Easter Sunday has to cram in all the truths of holy week into one hour. This leads to the odd experience of singing O Sacred Head Now Wounded in a church full of Easter lilies.
My whole life, my favorite holiday has been Easter, even as a child. This might be because winter in the South is kind of like a cooler summer without bugs, so Christmas lacked a certain magical element that you get when snow’s on the ground. But springtime – the Deep South knows how to do spring. Folks move down here and have to get allergy shots for all the pollen. Moreover, this flower fest starts in March, sometimes even in February, so no matter how early Easter comes, it’s warm enough to wear that new Easter dress and sandals and have a sunny Easter egg hunt. It never made sense that the fun had to stop with one day. When I found out that Episcopalians, along with Catholics, celebrate Easter for 50 days, it sealed the deal. (John Knox, if you wanted to keep me Presbyterian you should have kept the church calendar.)
A few years ago, a priest told me that some Christians prefer certain seasons to others. His particular favorite is Advent, which might be my least favorite because it’s so damn hard to practice in our culture. It’s not just a preference thing but a spiritual one – some people are drawn to particular seasons because it provides something their soul needs. Well, I’ve always known I needed Easter; I just didn’t know there was a whole season for it until a few years ago.
Soon after I had this revelation, I found my mom’s calendar from the year I was born. I’d never known what time of year I was baptized: Presbyterians baptize infants, but it’s not seen in same light that Catholics see it, so there’s no reason to celebrate the day in a particular way. Turns out I was baptized in April. Feeling goosebumps, I found the date for Easter and started counting forward, and yep, I was baptized during Easter (a week after Ascension Sunday, to be exact). It’s almost as if God stamped my soul right then, giving me exactly what I would need.
If you’re new to the church calendar, it’s hard to know what to do with it, especially when it comes to Easter. There are multitudes of articles about Lent, more ideas than any one person could try in a lifetime. But when it comes to knowing how to celebrate resurrection for 50 days, the pickings are slimmer. Why is this? Is it really harder to celebrate than to fast? Does Jesus still need to tell us not to fast in the presence of the Bridegroom?
For those who are new to the party, here are some things I’ve seen online in the last few days that have helped keep me in the mindset of Easter:
1. Easter People Podcast: Easter Joy in a Messed Up World. This podcast is run by two dear friends of mine up in Virginia, and I highly recommend this one in particular. They talk about finding joy when Easter Sunday falls during hard times. I really liked the idea that Easter gives us fuel and stamina for the coming year.
2. Resurrection of Dolls. You may have seen the story of the Tasmanian mom who finds second-hand Bratz dolls, cleans off the makeup, and creates natural-looking dolls for children. It’s truly beautiful how these trashy, scary cast-offs are remade into dolls with natural faces and home-knit clothes. As the article says, the new creations look “more at home on a tire swing than on the runways of Milan.” While this is not religious or explicitly about Easter, it struck me that this is a real resurrection for something that was ugly and unwanted, that now has new life and brings happiness to others.
3. The Women of Holy Week: Mary Magdalene. You should see the entire series that Rachel Held Evans wrote on the women of Holy Week, but this was my favorite. Both the church and the world have gotten this Mary’s story wrong over and over again. It strikes me how all the world wants to see women only in terms of our sexuality: at times in the church good women were just “virgins” (check out the descriptors for female verses male saints), and in today’s sex-saturated culture good women are sexually available and titillating. Rachel looks at how based on one inaccurate sermon, Mary Magdalene’s story got mixed up with that of another Mary – because women, who can keep them apart – and it stuck. Even though Mary Magdalene is not portrayed as a prostitute in Scripture, she got branded for hundreds of years. Only in this century was she exonerated by the Catholic church, and secular culture never got that memo. This story says who she really was: an apostle to the apostles, the first person to see Jesus alive and to proclaim the resurrection to unbelieving male disciples.
4. Introduction to Eastertide from a Presbyterian. If spite of what I wrote above, it seems some Presbyterians do practice Easter season after all! I love this article, because it presents the idea of Easter tide to those who have objections and even names those objections. (I can hear my mom saying “but we’re supposed to celebrate Easter all the time!” Whenever a Presbyterian objects to something in the church year, you can bet it’s because “we’re supposed to do that all the time.”) I was not familiar with Bach’s Easter Oratio, but now I’m going to look it up!
5. Catholic Culture: Fifty Days of Rejoicing. This is an awesome resource for us newbies. I knew about some symbols like the phoenix, but I had never thought about bees or beeswax having anything to do with it.
And finally, the Pascha Nostrum:
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
But with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.
Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
And alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.