Easter’s 50 days invite us to go from followers to believers

Our longest liturgical season

By Felipe N. Martinez | Presbyterians Today

Tomb empty with cross at sunriseI was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, where I was a member of a congregation in the Mexican National Presbyterian Church denomination. The worship life of our congregation noted the important days of the Christian calendar — Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. But I don’t ever recall a mention of liturgical seasons.

In retrospect, this probably was an effort to draw a distinction between the minority Presbyterian denomination and the majority Roman Catholic Church. (Pew Research reported in 2014 that 81% of Mexicans identified as Roman Catholic.) The Catholics may have had their 40 days of Lent, but we didn’t. The only multi-day “season” Presbyterians ever mentioned seemed to be Holy Week. It wasn’t until I immigrated to the United States and joined a PC(USA) church that I became familiar with the liturgical seasons. Yet even in the PC(USA), we struggle with living into those seasons.

As a pastor, I can’t ignore the grumblings from the pews during Advent that we should be singing Christmas hymns. Though we anticipate Christmas, when Christmas Day arrives it feels as though we’ve crossed the finish line like an exhausted runner. We don’t seem to have the energy for the 12 days of Christmas. Besides being the title of a quaint song, those days are often misconstrued to be the 12 days leading to Dec. 25. In reality, the 12 days follow Christmas.

Easter mirrors our Christmas dilemma. We see Easter Sunday as the destination following Lent, but then we neglect the Easter season known as Eastertide, which spans seven weeks. Eastertide is also referred to as “the 50 days of Easter.” Those days begin with Easter Sunday and end with Pentecost Sunday.

The early church wasn’t focused on the Easter season either. It sought to clarify when exactly to celebrate the Good Friday sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. When we take into account the different chronologies in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and in John, and add to that the differences between the Jewish lunar calendar and the Roman solar calendar, we can see that determining that date wasn’t a clear-cut answer.

While we won’t soon be singing, “On the 12th day of Easter, my true love gave to me … ” our congregations would benefit from prayerfully considering the time between Easter and Pentecost. Celebrating the Easter season is sure to deepen our faith, connecting us to the spiritual drama that took place in real time for the original followers of Jesus. The season marks the space between an empty tomb and a room filled by the Holy Spirit, the shift between followers in a room hiding in fear and those gathered in hope, the feeling between the vision of a transformed Jesus and transformed believers.

I see the Bible as a love story between God and humanity, and Easter marks the turning point of that story. What the 50 days call us to do is to apply to our lives the meaning of the transformation Jesus experienced and how it transforms us. Eastertide also invites us to prepare spiritually to celebrate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh come Pentecost.

When I was a student at McCormick Theological Seminary, I attended worship with my wife, Tracy, at the Methodist church she attended. In the Easter season, during the Prayers of the People, the pastor would ask the congregation for more than joys and concerns. She would ask: “Where are you seeing signs of resurrection?”

That was a poignant question for a congregation that had once been on the brink of being closed. That was a provocative question for members who lived from paycheck to paycheck and were faithfully in worship. That was a pertinent question for anyone who was eagerly awaiting God’s answer to their prayers. And it is a question that guides us during Easter’s 50 days. May this season bring us ever closer to the risen Jesus.

Felipe N. Martinez is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Indiana.

Ideas for Easter’s 50 days

Reinforce the Easter Sunday message by preaching in the season of Easter on themes such as faithfulness, transformation, renewal or healing.

From Easter to Pentecost, invite your church family to post pictures on social media that reflect the Easter message. Hashtags can be #resurrection, #emptytomb, #newlife.

Prepare a congregational devotional — daily or weekly readings — featuring stories of new life written by church members.

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