As a liturgical season, Lent is rather straightforward. It is kinda’ easy to write about. There is Ash Wednesday to dramatically mark its beginning, and we all know we are moving relentlessly towards Easter. We count the days even as we mark Lent’s beginning. The Ashes make a visible mark upon us, reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return – but that is not the end of the story. We are reminded to repent and believe in the Gospel – but that is not the end goal. We are encouraged to pray, fast, and give alms – but those practices are meant to make room in our lives for God that we too may rise to the newness of life at Eastertide.
Easter is that day when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But if you were paying attention to last week’s gospels, you might have noticed the Risen Jesus did not appear in the gospel proclaimed. The central icon was an empty tomb with Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple all reacting to its discovery – all in different ways.
Easter is the highest of the high holy days and the pinnacle of the Church’s liturgical celebrations. But Easter is not the finish line. Consider the Easter experience of Mary, Peter and the Beloved Disciple. “…early in the morning, while it was still dark…” Three people encounter the mystery of the Resurrection. One sees and believes. The one chosen to be the Rock, he keeps his thoughts to himself. One remains in the darkness – but she stays, remains present even when the others returned home. While our minds race ahead to fill in the story of Mary’s encounter with Jesus in the Garden, Jesus’ appearance in the Upper Room, the encounter on the road to Emmaus, and so many other post-Resurrection appearances, this gospel has only the empty tomb. And like those disciples, each one of us comes to the empty tomb. No two of us the same. None of our reactions, hopes, desires, experiences, the same.
Easter is not the finish line. Allow me some poetic license here, but Easter is to Eastertide, what Ash Wednesday is to Lent. It is the day we begin to count and to consider the promised newness of life that waits to unfold before us. Eastertide is the 50-day season beginning on Easter Sunday with a dramatic mark in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, relentlessly moving to Pentecost Sunday. Easter and Pentecost correspond to two Jewish holy days, the first day of Pesach and the holiday of Shavu’ot. In the Jewish tradition, the days between these holidays are known as Counting of the Omer. The idea of counting each day represents spiritual preparation and anticipation for the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Easter is not the finish line, but the “Ash Wednesday” of Eastertide when we again begin to count, to spiritually prepare and anticipate the giving of the Spirit on Pentecost. If in Lent we have traditional practices to help prepare us to celebrate the Risen Christ, what are we practicing in Eastertide? I think the answer is profoundly simple: we practice what we witnessed on Easter – resurrection.
The Catholic writer, Megan McKenna, has a wonderful vignette about practicing resurrection in her book, Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible. She had shared in a Bible study, “that life happens when we are interrupted, and that some of the most powerful acts of resurrection happen to the least likely people; that we are the people of resurrection and hope, called to live passionately and compassionately with others, to defy death, to forgive, and to bring others back into the community, to do something that is life-giving, that fights death and needless suffering.” It is at this point that someone asks, somewhat harshly, “Have you ever brought someone back from the dead.” I love her answer: “My response was, ‘Yes … Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice — yes — I bring people back from the dead.”’
If in Lent we made room for God, here in Eastertide we work with Christ, practicing what he has already shown us: newness of life. And so we practice resurrection in our own lives by introducing joy, forgiveness, listening, justice, compassion…and so much more. And we count the days to Pentecost when the Spirit is given that we may take the honed skills of resurrection into a waiting world.