Opinion | Church

We Wish You a Busy Easter

Why the extra services and special meals of Holy Week are good for us.
We Wish You a Busy Easter
Image: limaoscarjuliet / Flickr

As a child, I'm not sure I would have told you Easter was a holiday. Christmas prompted weeks of preparation on a church musical; commandeered displays at every store; and mustered a parade of boxes in the mail bearing presents from far-off relatives. In comparison, Easter seemed like just another Sunday.

Except for a few special songs at church, little girls' new Sunday dresses, and my parents' goofy jelly bean hunt in the living room, little marked Easter Sunday as the other high, holy holiday of the Christian calendar.

As an adult, I didn't see Easter much differently until a few years ago. Compared to the mad social jockeying of December, with everyone competing for precious weekend slots to host their holiday dinners, carol sings, and white elephant gift exchanges, Easter made few demands on my calendar.

Then I joined a Protestant church that observed the liturgical calendar. We hold an Ash Wednesday service and go on to speak of the Lenten season as we do advent in December. Even our corporate singing changes: Where advent brings carols, Lent means more contemplative songs and a particular emphasis on repentance.

One year I learned we were also following the ancient practice of not singing any "hallelujahs" during Lent. A Chicago pastor explains that his church practices this "communal fast" as a way to "remember the already and not yet nature of the Kingdom of God. In recent years, my church's worship pastor has also added a weekly penitential refrain based on Psalm 51 that the congregation sings during Lent.

Holy Week brings the biggest change of all. While church services usually take up no more than 75 minutes on a Sunday, this week they also claim my free evenings Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — with a Maundy Thursday supper, Good Friday service and Saturday night Easter vigil.

It's a lot to ask, no question, especially given our ubiquitously "busy" schedules. It's not uncommon to schedule catch-up phone calls with loved ones, as if they were meetings, and determine church attendance around sporting events. But how we spend our time shows what's important to us.

Why shouldn't the church get to make a big demand on my time at least once a year?

It takes such work to remember, you see. It takes work to remember that Easter is a holiday. It takes work to remember that Christmas and Easter are inextricably bound up in each other. It takes work to remember that these high, holy holidays are such because they celebrate God's preeminent work of redemption in Jesus' incarnational birth, death, and resurrection.

Even writing that line, I'm tempted to shrug. It's so familiar. But peel back all the memories of childhood flannelgraphs and mediocre sermons, and we see the power of God's work in Jesus.

Healing and fixing everything wrong with the world begins with him. From peace in the Ukraine and the Middle East to reconciling neighbors divided by trying to grow a community garden, we have no true hope apart from Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection two days later.

If we're fortunate, the truth of God's power to transform us, "to hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks," will pierce through all the layers of familiarity this Easter. But it might not. The story doesn't always stun as it should. And even when it does, we forget God's faithfulness.

That's why I've come to place such importance on eating an Easter dinner feast. "Historic Christian worship is fundamentally formative because it educates our hearts through our bodies (which in turns renews our minds)," Jamie Smith writes in Desiring the Kingdom.

No surprise, then, that Jesus appoints a meal — communion — as the pre-eminent way for his followers to remember his life, death and resurrection on our behalf. Only in eating and sex do we engage sight, smell, sound, taste and touch all at once.

Special meals mark national observances like Memorial and Labor Day and the Fourth of July. Special menus set Thanksgiving and Christmas apart. How could we possibly involve our bodies any less in Easter?

What and how we celebrate shows what we value in practice. When I had only $50 a week in my food-and-transit budget, I saved $2 each grocery trip to celebrate God's liberating provision with a bottle of sparkling lemonade or bag or mint chocolate chips. These days, celebration tastes a bit different.

Whatever sort of feast we might be able to afford or prepare, Easter dinner – or brunch, if that's your tradition – provides a chance to bring our whole bodies to God with others in joyful celebration of his coming and yet-to-come kingdom redemption of all things. Shouldn't we organize our biggest feasts around these high, holy holidays?

With Easter dinner we extend the incomplete feast of communion and anticipate the yet-to-come lavish wedding feast of the Lamb. Hallelujah!

May
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