Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Change

Change happens fast.
Not long ago I was walking quickly from one room to the next, excitedly thinking about something and not looking where I was going, and in a matter of seconds I had sprained my ankle.  Almost more than the pain, the realization that my prospects for the next few days (and potentially weeks) ahead had changed hit me like a blow.  How much more so for people in serious accidents must be the overwhelming feeling of sudden and irreversible change.

The incident just recounted happened to take place on Holy Saturday, and I soon found myself reflecting on the rapid changes the disciples saw during that eventful week we celebrate each year:  Jesus enters Jerusalem, triumphant king, masses of people going crazy and shouting their joy at his arrival.  Then, a few days later, they celebrate the Passover together and he breaks with the traditional teaching to say that he is the one that fulfills centuries of Passovers, that this piece of matzos is his body, this cup is his blood, that even the events of the Exodus point to him, their teacher sitting there with them.  Yet that very night, he is arrested, tried, and taken to die a horrendous death, the same crowds of Jerusalem yelling "crucify him"!  And only a week after they had entered the city to the welcoming shouts of the people, they find themselves huddled in a room behind locked doors, fearing that they too might follow to death the man they had thought to be the promised deliverer.  How might they have felt?

Fortunately God had one more change planned:  Christ arose, death swallowed up in life, darkness lost in light, sin and evil defeated by the wisdom and love and goodness of God; the cosmos was changed irrevocably by the power of God.

Yet in the past weeks I have come to realize that change also takes place slowly.  
Our bodies heal slowly.  The miracle of plant life, hidden beneath the frozen grays and dead browns of winter, emerges slowly each day.  Spiritual growth takes time; in fact it will take our whole life.  It takes time and discipline to enter the fullness of life Christ freely gives.

There seems to be a relation between both kinds of change - slow and fast.  For a plant, it takes weeks and months of waiting, of sun and of rain, before the blossom emerges and all of a sudden its appearance is transformed.  The slow change, initiated by the sudden fall to earth of a seed, results in another quick change, an unfolding of color.  Likewise with our spiritual life, the two are inextricably linked.  I leave you with this thought, and with the challenge to think on it and to persevere with the small changes asked of you.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Seasons of the Church (Part VI): Easter!

Christ is risen! 
Alleluia!  He is risen indeed!
You may wonder that I can start with this central cry of the Easter liturgy - wasn't Easter last week?  Yes, Easter Sunday was last week, but we are now in the season of Easter, the 50 days until Pentecost (or the 40 days until the ascension, depending on how you count).  I only learned of this season recently, and it makes so much sense.  In fact, it could be argued that celebrating the easter season is crucial to our spiritual life.  N. T. Wright says that "It's long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system." (Surprised by Hope, p256)  There are many reasons why.

Easter in relation to Lent
Has it ever struck you as odd that we spend 40 days celebrating lent and only one day for Easter?  Wright points out,
Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don't do it exuberantly in our liturgies?  Is it any wonder the world doesn't take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?" (256)  
He suggests that "if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up" (257)

The centrality of Easter
We must realize the importance of Easter.  Wright says it well:
This is our greatest festival.  Take Christmas way, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else.  Take Easter away, and you don't have a New Testament; you don't have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins.  We shouldn't allow the secular world, with its schedules and habits and parareligious events, its cute Easter bunnies, to blow us off course.  This is our greatest day.  We should put the flags out.  
At first this might sound a bit extreme.  (And don't worry, he is not downplaying the doctrine of the incarnation -without the incarnation the resurrection doesn't make much sense either!) But the more you think about it, the more you read Paul, for example, the more I think you will begin to agree. that Easter is truly the defining celebration of the Church. But do we really understand this centrality?  Kimberlee Ireton writes, 
Like the disciples trudging up the road to Emmaus,  I trudge through life as if Easter were just a nice day in spring and not the earth-shaking, mind-blowing, life-altering, cosmos-shattering event that it is. (The Circle of Seasons, p 96)
The Easter Season as a time to grasp the resurrection
Ireton makes a good point about the necessity of Easter as a season.  Not only does it balance out Lent in duration, but it helps us grasp the events we celebrate.  She writes,
If Easter were only a single day, I would never have time to let is incredible reality settle over me, settle into me.  I would trudge through my life with a disconnect between what I say I believe about resurrection and how I live (or fail to live) my life in light of it.  Thanks be to God, our forebears in faith [...] decided we simply cannot celebrate Easter in a single day, or even a single week.  No, they decided, we need fifty days, seven Sundays, to even begin to plumb the depths of this event.  They knew, as we too often do not, that the riches of this most important event in all of history cannot be exhausted in a single day.
As a student, I often find that Easter slips up during the busiest time of the semester.  If I'm not feeling 'in the mood' on that one day, does that mean I miss out on celebrating Easter?  Certainly, I should make every effort to celebrate on Easter Sunday.  But after that, the church calendar provides such a wonderful opportunity to integrate "Easter" into my day-to-day life.  What does this look like?  I'm only just beginning to see (and writing this post is helping me).  For me, I think it will involve a lot of visual things: 
  • delighting in the new life springing all around me, and intentionally relating it to the resurrection
  • putting out the eggs I blew and decorated on Easter Sunday as reminders throughout the season
  • I will look for signs of the life of Christ in those around me.
Maybe I will go back and re-read the Easter liturgy.  Perhaps tomorrow I will play through some Easter hymns on the piano.  What will you do?

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Note: for a more extensive study on why the resurrection is important, I recommend N. T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope.