What is Eastertide? : An Invitation to Cling to the Risen Lord

Easter Sunday is over…now what? Well, for Christians who are part of the Church that adheres to the church/liturgical calendar, we have just entered Eastertide. Also referred to as Easter Season, Paschaltide, or Paschal Tide, Eastertide is the season of the church that begins with Easter Sunday and ends with the Feast of Pentecost. There are a total 50 days to this season during which we celebrate the Risen Lord. But why do we observe it and what does it mean?

Jewish Origins

Many feasts of the church find their origins in the Old Testament and the festival (and liturgical) life of Israel. Before Easter there was (and still is) Pesach—Passover—and before Pentecost there was (and still is) Shavu’ot—the Feast of Weeks. It is important to remember that the story and history of the church is not separate from, nor greater than the story of Israel. Indeed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the one whom we worship and serve! As Paul remarks in Romans, we have been grafted into David’s line—into Jesse’s branch—and are part of the new Israel.

Israel was in bondage and slavery in Egypt and cried out to the LORD for deliverance. The LORD raised up Moses to deliver his people that they might worship him in the wilderness. The Last Supper is proof that Passover cannot be separated from the crucifixion: all four gospels place Jesus’ last night on earth in the context of Passover. Passover is therefore both the story of YHWH’s redeeming work in rescuing Israel from Egypt and the narrative context for Jesus’ work on the cross and tomb.

Shavu’ot is another Jewish festival and it takes place 7 weeks after Passover; thus the name “Feast of Weeks.” On this day Jews celebrate the giving of Torah by YHWH to Israel on Mt. Sinai. The Law was given to a people already redeemed and was based upon YHWH’s covenant with his people. Shavu’ot is also observed as a harvest festival for during the seven weeks between it and Passover; Israel was to be planting barley and other grains during that time, literally “counting the omer.” This feast is therefore both a celebration of YHWH’s gift of the Law—and therefore the constitution of his people—and a thanksgiving celebration for the harvest; it is also the context for Pentecost.

Christian Context

We know from Scripture that Jesus appeared to his disciples and some 500 people after his resurrection and before his ascension (1 Corinthians 5:6). During this time he spoke peace to his disciples, he opened their minds to the Scriptures, he broke bread with them, and then he ascended to the right hand of the Father. We celebrate the Feast of the Ascension during Eastertide (May 14, 2015); as one of my seminary professors used to quip, “We need to get Jesus good and ascended if he want him reigning over all things.”

Jesus commands and commissions his disciples at the Ascension. ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age, ” (Matthew 28:18-20). After this the disciples are left alone to find one to replace Judas and then the Holy Spirit is given to the Church at the Feast of Pentecost.

Pentecost is the Greek word for Shavu’ot and the Church’s celebration happens parallel to that of Israel. While Israel was celebrating the gift of Torah and the harvest, the Church was being given the Holy Spirit who would lead and guide her into all truth. For the Law to be written upon our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) the Spirit would need to be given, received and active in ministry.

In short, the Jewish festivals of Pesach (Passover) and Shavu’ot (Pentecost) are transformed by the triune God for the new Israel.

Passover and Shavu’ot are not replaced or retired but made new. They still form the interpretive matrix for the church’s celebration of God’s actions in and through Jesus. We are not suggesting that Easter is merely symbolic of Passover or Pentecost of Shavu’ot, but that these feasts also happen within the context of Israel’s story.

So What?

First and foremost, Eastertide is a season for feasting.

Jesus said in Matthew 9:15, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Eastertide is our celebration of Jesus’ earthly presence post-resurrection and therefore is not a time for fasting. As a church we have just emerged from the wilderness and fasting of Lent and we can now enjoy a time of God’s plentiful bounty.

We need to be careful with this one, however. It would be all too easy to take the things we’ve given up during Lent and to over-indulge in them during Eastertide. I gave up social media for Lent and I took on fasting on Fridays—can you imagine how much food I might eat or Facebooking I might do if I decided to over-indulge? I don’t want to imagine! Rather, our passions and desires should have been reoriented during Lent, that our celebrations and feasting may be more about God than about our own tastes and needs.

Second, Eastertide is another invitation to tell time differently.

Rather than telling time according to the Julian or Gregorian calendar, or based on sporting events, or holidays or family celebrations, the church tells time according to her corporate memory of God’s acts of salvation. Sure, May 14, 2015 is a lovely date but the Feast of the Ascension has far greater meaning. Remembering Eastertide means we remember the Resurrection and Pentecost; it means we remember Passover and Shavu’ot; it means we remember God’s actions and ongoing activity in his world.

Third, we can and should cling to Jesus.

When Mary Magdalene encountered the Risen Lord in John 20 she was told to not hold onto him. Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father,” (John 20:17). We however are on the other side of the Ascension and can cling to Jesus. In fact, I think we should see the season of Eastertide as an invitation to cling to the Risen Lord! The post-resurrection accounts of Jesus show him teaching his disciples and followers the meaning of the Scriptures, how the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms had been fulfilled, and how he was leaving them with peace.

As we await the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, may we cling to Jesus with joy and gratitude for all he has done.

May we observe a holy Eastertide with feasting and celebration.

May we tell time according to God’s righteous acts.

May we proclaim with our lips and lives, “Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!”

Entering Lent With Intentionality

Here is an article I wrote first for the Diocese of C4SO monthly newsletter. It was then picked up and published by Anglican Pastor.

My social media news feeds are a flutter with posts about the beginning of Lent: Shrove Tuesday meals, Ash Wednesday services, Lenten disciplines and strong opinions about the relevance of the season. It seems that there are differing views and/or misunderstandings about the nature of the Lenten season. People write about Lent being “Roman Catholic” or that there is no need for Lent because “Jesus already paid for my sins.” I think that we need to unmask Lent for those who are unsure about this penitential season. I think that we need to see Lent for what it is, and certainly for what it is not.

Lent is not a time to earn forgiveness for your sins. It is not a time to begrudgingly give something up temporarily only to greedily pick it back up after Easter. It is not a time for false humility or personal piety. Lent is not only a tradition for the liturgically minded.

I believe that Lent is for the priesthood of all believers.

I believe that Lent is full of hope.

I believe we must journey to the foot of the Cross before we stumble upon the Empty Tomb.

Lent is catholic

Lent is catholic, not Catholic. This is not meant with any insult toward our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, far from it! It is for the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

In this Lenten Season we are athletes in intense training rather than sinners in the hands of an angry God. There are ancient disciplines and biblical practices that help locate and combat the spiritual flab on our souls. Much like a marathon runner needs to practice for weeks and months on end, stretching before each run, we are stretched through our continual workouts as we practice for the kingdom. N.T. Wright challenges us to begin practicing in the present for the full reality of Jesus’ kingdom in the future.

The call in Lent is the call to discipleship. That is, in this penitential season of self-reflection and intentional spiritual awareness we look down the slopes of the Mountain of Transfiguration straight to the cross on Golgotha and journey with Jesus, the disciples, and one another as we follow the One who has called us. Jesus’ 40-day temptation retreat in the wilderness provides the framework for our introspection and spiritual regimen.  Why?

Because we know that we need the cross daily.

Because we know the areas of our hearts and lives that are not aligned with God.

Because we know that we are but ashes and dust; we are creature not Creator.

Our call is not to become spiritual superstars or to take on disciplines to the notice and laud of others. Our call, as Christ-followers and as the Church, is to sacrifice our entire person as our spiritual act of worship (Rom. 12); to be formed spiritually as “new creation” (2 Cor. 5); to “decrease” so that Christ might “increase” (John 3); and to grow in maturity in the faith together (Eph. 4). As you can see, this is the call for all believers. In fact, historically the local church took on disciplines throughout Lent—particularly prayer and fasting—while her newest converts went through the catechumenate to prepare for baptism during the Easter Vigil. Lent was a church-wide tradition. I think it still is Church-wide, or at least still can be.

Lent teaches us to live in the shadow of the cross and the radiant light of the empty tomb. We learn to die to self and rise in Christ. Taking on of spiritual disciplines, coupled with “giving things up”, helps form us more fully as members of God’s Story rather than our own. Our desperate need for grace and the radical reversal of our realities plant us firmly in the tradition of the one holy catholic and apostolic church which teaches us to rely on God absolutely.

Fridays are for Fasting

As stated previously, prayer and fasting are two of the oldest spiritual disciplines in Christian spirituality and Lenten preparation. The faihtful would fast alongside and on behalf of those new believers in Jesus who were readying for baptism. Fasting has become a regular fixture in my weekly schedule as I set Friday aside for the abstinence of food. Why? I am fasting because I want to draw closer to God through lack of food—I want to encounter him in my hunger—and I have found that prayer and meditation are actually much easier when I am not interrupted by the need to feed.

Recently the majority of the 32 postulants for ordination in this Diocese have agreed to spend Fridays in fasting and prayer for one another. Fasting has become a sort of spiritual solidarity that they can offer up in the midst of any circumstance or trial. We are not earning or winning anything through this spiritual practice, in fact I have personally found myself desperately hungry well before the time is up. If I can meet our Lord in the bread and wine of the Eucharist then why can I not meet him in the words that “flow from the mouth of God” because “man does not live by bread alone”?

In On Liturgical Asceticism, David Fagerberg relates a poignant story about fasting from the Desert Fathers, “No fast should be held inhospitably rigid that it cannot be broken.” He goes on to share a story in which a monk breaks his fast and his dining companion asks why. The monk replies, “Because I can always fast but I will not always be able to dine with you. We can eat not and I can resume my fast later.” The point is not to become self-righteous or Pharisaical but to approach the Father through our own oblations and sacrifices in the knowledge that he has already wooed us to himself and that he desires our praises, both verbal and physical.

Will you join us and set Fridays in Lent aside for fasting? This is not a “misery-loves-company” type invitation but rather an opportunity to train our bodies, hearts and minds in the contemplation and adoration of He Who is Greater than we can ever comprehend; it is a request for you to participate in the spiritual life of the Church in a meaningful way; it is a chance for you to remove every hindrance and encumbrance while we run the race set before us. The goal is not weight loss or personal holiness (per se): the goal is always God. It is the God whom we meet in the absence of a few meals and it is He whom we meet in the presence of physical hunger.

Perhaps our physical hunger can serve as a mirror or catalyst for spiritual hunger. What if I longed for God the way I longed for food after a 24-hour fast? What if I pursued God with zeal as I do the meal ravenously consumed once my fast has broken? What if? Perhaps this is an opportunity to the glory of God…will you join me?

Pass this along to friends and family as a challenge to live life in Lent together. Join with those who have gone before and set the example for those who will come after. Lent is a launching pad for the life of the disciple to be continued daily after Easter.  May we journey together as one voice, one Body. May we all observe a holy Lent.