The church season of Easter
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The Lord has promised to create a new heavens and a new earth in which his people will live in peace and joy, as in the beginning. That new creation has begun in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, “the firstfuits of those who have fallen asleep.” The resurrection is the divine testimony that our redemption has been accomplished. Overwhelming joy should be obvious in everything that takes place in worship on Easter Sunday. Special music, banners, instruments, processions, alleluia’s, and more celebrate the joy of Christ’s accomplishment.
On Easter Day, we celebrate the astonishing, miraculous resurrection of Jesus, an event that changed the course of history. Yet the whole redemptive work, not only the one phase of the resurrection, is the object of Easter’s celebration. The liturgy of Easter has some important things to say about how Christians of today must spend their lives. Easter is the feast of our redemption, and to be redeemed means not only that we are freed from sin, it means also that we are filled with grace. We are to be living witnesses of Christ’s resurrection by letting the grace it has brought us shine out for all to see in the holiness of true Christian conduct.
The entire Lenten season has been intended to prepare the faithful for rising with Christ at Easter from death into this new life of holiness. In the ancient church, Lent had been a time of intense preparation for Baptism, by which Christians are born into a new life. When the Head arose, the mystical body of believers was to be holy, ready to serve the Head in holiness. In Romans 6:3–5, St. Paul argues: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we, too, might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Easter is not a single day but a season of forty-nine days, a “week of weeks.” It is a season of joy and praise, of wonder and mystery, for the power of God has reversed the power of sin and death. The season concludes on the 50th day, the festival of Pentecost. Easter is the oldest of the church’s feasts, and the source of all others. The ancient name for Easter is ‘Pascha,’ from the Greek and Hebrew words for Passover, “for Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
At first, the resurrection of Jesus was the only festival celebrated by the church, and they celebrated it every Sunday of the year. As the church year gradually developed, however, an annual celebration of the resurrection became the norm. There was much debate about when to celebrate, and the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 directed that for the Western Church, Easter would be celebrated the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. This keeps it in close proximity to the Passover but not in exact agreement. This avoids the problem of celebrating Good Friday and Easter Sunday on other days of the week as would happen if the dates were historically accurate.