Hand-dyed eggs, fluffy bunny-rabbits, yellow Peeps, an over-population of tulips, and foil-covered chocolates have taken over Eastertide. It used to be a liturgically-rich church celebration, but it has slowly been turned into a commercialized holiday, watered down with modern sentimentalism and artificial flavors. Americans have secularized holidays, heavily emphasizing the celebration of Christmas, but what about Easter? Shouldn’t this holiday—the mark of Christ’s conquering death and our new freedom—be just as important as the lowly Infant birth, if not more so? Where would we be if Christ never rose from the dead? Without Christmas there would not be the first half of the gospels, but without Jesus’ death and resurrection most of the New Testament would be gone. In response to this attitude, Christians should enthusiastically and intentionally observe Easter, a sacramental celebration of Christ’s bodily resurrection.
As Christians, characters in God’s own narrative, we should be recounting His faithfulness towards us and living in continual forward-looking remembrance of Christ. Telling stories about God’s abundant mercy is a way of spreading the passion we have for Christ with the others around us and fulfilling the calling of the Great Commission in light of the future. It is easy to slip into either dead orthodoxy (simply going through the motions and having no clue what is going on) or dead spontaneity (dismissing traditions and dwelling on the death of Christ for a day). That is not what it is all about. Yes, Christ died on the cross as the only sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world, but it did not stop there! Who would want to be a Christian if Christ was still in the grave? The resurrection changed everything. Every week we celebrate a mini-Easter, coming together as the body of Christ and fellowshipping via Christ’s body and blood (the bread and wine of life). Once a year, a few weeks of more concentrated repentance and covenant renewal are set aside as Christians joyfully await the Day of Culmination.
Learning to celebrate Easter as a faith-nourishing feast begins six weeks beforehand. Similar to how the season of advent helps to instill the truth of Christmas in our hearts, Lent is a penitential season of remembrance, focusing on repentance, cultivating attitudes rooted in gratefulness for the Savior’s passion and atonement, and preparing us to more fully treasure the great Sacrifice that was slain on Calvary. Sadly, Easter has lost a lot of its meaning and symbolism to society’s drive towards modernism. Lent is not about jumping over spiritual hurdles of works-righteousness but rather drinking up the glory of the freedom we are given over remaining sin. “Living between the resurrection of Jesus and the final coming together of all things in heaven and earth means celebrating God’s healing of his world not his abandoning of it.” The Son has risen and His world is getting perpetually lighter. Soon we will partake of the final and everlasting meal with the Lamb, drinking His wine and eating His bread.
Lent is often thought of as a Catholic, not Protestant, celebration. On the contrary, it is merely a period of days for reflecting on the pain that culminated in the first Easter, and a time to become more disciplined and diligent in our own personal lives. There are many different ways of observing this festival, but most important is the condition of the heart. Observing 40 self-denying days profits nothing, unless it helps us focus on bringing glory to God in all we do. Fasting from food, media, or entertainment, being absorbed in prayer, searching for meaning in personal activities, carefully guarding the words we say, and studying, most often typifies lent—with the right motivations, these can all be wonderful. As Alexander Schmemann says:
It is by abstaining from food that we rediscover its sweetness and learn again how to receive it from God with joy and gratitude. It is by ‘slowing down’ on music and entertainment, on conversation and superficial socializing, that we rediscover the ultimate value of human relationships, human work, human art. And we rediscover all this because very simply we rediscover God Himself—because we return to Him and in Him to all that which He gave us in His infinite love and mercy.
Although frequently when people celebrate Lent, it is turned into a legalistic forbearance and works of righteous-abstention. All too often self-denial is simply a façade to appear more holy and in tune with God. The purpose of Lent is not to give up things, chances are either you shouldn’t be doing it anyways, or it really doesn’t matter. Both are a misuse of this time of penitence. If, however, something is relinquished in order to spend more time in prayer or exercising some other discipline, that would be a worthwhile pursuit.
Feasting on Sunday and eating a more simple spread of foods the rest of the week sets the tone for a sacramental year. It is a way to remember the specialness of the beginning of the week, building up anticipation for a joyous celebration of the Sabbath. Punctuating daily life with such rich symbolism and intentionality strengthens faith and encourages Christians to persevere through life’s trials in the comforting hope of the future and the amazing things God has in store. The Christian life is all about repentance and thus this season of the year is appropriately thought of as time for confession, repentance, and personal recommitment. Prayer, spending time in the Word, and knowing that our bodies are the temple of His presence are keys to living in an Easter-centered world. The liturgical year begins with life (recreation through Christ), so the period of Lent is a time of death changing into life, just as spring is the visible and tangible realization of this miraculous transformation.
Made in the image of God, humans are physical beings. Because of this, it is so amazing that God gave us tangible reminders that we are his chosen people—the elect called to Himself for His enjoyment—Sabbath dinners should not just be an abundance of food, though they can and probably should be bounteous, they should also carry with them the rich symbolism that we so often lose sight of. Each Sunday is preceded by six days of fasting (living the normal everyday is just that, a time to live in increasing hope of the rest and pleasure of the coming Sabbath). How awesome that God cares so much for His people that he gives us real manifestations that increase our faith! When we become hungry through fasting we see what it is like to be dependent on Christ for all our food.
Food is a means of life and symbolic of our dependence on God for all sustenance. Before we eat, it must first go through death before it can bring life to our bodies. This understated picture of the resurrection appears in daily life, “our present experience, with all its incompleteness, is meant to point us to the fact that we will one day wake up and arise from sleep.” In the beginning, the perfect life that Adam and Eve were given fell in a meal—they ate and the course of history was changed. When Jesus was here on earth He commemorated His time with the Apostles with a meal. We are now continually improving upon our baptisms through the promise effectuated by the Holy Spirit in the sacramental meal Communion. And eventually, when the Kingdom of God has come to earth, we will all be reunited with a meal of consummation—the ultimate Easter dinner. We are living a post-Easter world; Christ came to earth, died, and rose from the grave, ascending to sit at the right hand of the Father.  With this “already but not yet” view of the gospel, we as Christians are freed to appreciate what He accomplished on Calvary and advance our faith and life of faith accordingly. Let us celebrate the resurrection; prepare a superb meal, raise a glass of wine-red cordial in merriment, rejoice that God’s kingdom is coming to rebuild the earth as the garden-city of the Lord that it was first meant to be.
Doug Wilson, Penitential Seasons; Leviticus 23:23-37. 2008, http://www.canonwired.com/sermons/sermon-penitential-seasons-leviticus-2323-27 (accessed April 13, 2011).
N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope (New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2008) 264.
Rom. 14:6; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17 [NKJV].
Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent. (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), 105.
Toby Sumpter, The Gospel of Lent. http://havingtwolegs.blogspot.com/2011/03/gospel-of-lent.html (accessed April 13).
Tom Brainerd, email message to author, April 14, 2011.
Schmemann, Great Lent, 97.
Wright, Surprised By Hope, 287.
Wright, Surprised By Hope, 286.
Toby Sumpter, God Back; Celebrating Eastertide. http://havingtwolegs.blogspot.com/2010/04/god-back-celebrating-eastertide.html (accessed March 13, 2011).