Without exception every church does a great job when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Many churches make a good deal of the season of Lent. But most churches do a miserable job in celebrating Easter – in the sense that they limit Easter celebrations to Easter Day. Indeed, if the truth be told, for most Christians Easter if a half-day hurrah filled with food, family and festivity. And even the festivity tends to be short on Christian content: because after the morning service the focus switches to the egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. What a travesty – not least when you consider that the resurrection is the first article of the Christian faith and the demonstration of all the rest.
The fact is that Easter Sunday should be just the start of 50 days of celebration – or as one web-site put it, ’50 days of rejoicing’. As far as the church calendar is concerned, the season of Easter starts on Easter Sunday and lasts for 50 days – right up to Pentecost Sunday. But as it is, the Sunday after Easter is almost always a let-down: ministers tend to take off the week after Easter after all the special services of Holy Week, and many of their members follow their lead and similarly don’t turn up to church the following Sunday. Yes, the Sunday after Easter is a ‘Low Sunday’ in every sense of the word.
I believe that as churches we need to make more of the fifty days of Easter. With Athanasius of Alexandria, one of the great theologians of the early church, we need to view the Easter season as one ‘Great Sunday’. Goodness, I wonder what would happen if every Sunday in that period we were to begin worship by singing ‘Jesus Christ is risen today’ – or if that is too much of a good thing, then ensuring that every service in the Easter period begins with a different Easter hymn. Let’s also celebrate the Easter faith through Easter preaching. And by Easter preaching I have in mind not just preaching on the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances, but on the transforming power the risen Lord Jesus offers his people. What a difference such Easter preaching could make. As my father wrote in his book Preaching the Gospel from the Gospels, “If the Church had contemplated the Empty Tomb as much as the Cross of its Lord, its life would have been more exhilarating and its contribution the world more positive than has been the case”.
But let’s not just limit our Easter celebrations to church. Let’s bring the joy of Easter into our homes. If Lent is about fasting and penance, Easter is about feasting and living life to the full. One way to make the Easter season special is to open our homes and invite guests for dinner on all the six Sundays following Easter Sunday – and instead of just saying grace, an Easter reading could precede the prayer. Another way of making the season special could be doing something special with the family on each of those Sundays – one Sunday it might be a special meal, another Sunday it might be a walk in the countryside or a trip to the seaside, while on another Sunday it might be a visit to the cinema or a session ten-pin bowling!
Yet another way of making the most of the Easter season is to share our Easter joy with people beyond the family and the church. After all, do we not find the Risen Lord in all four Gospels commanding us to take the good news to all the world? But how might we do so? The thought occurred to me that next Wednesday I could take some bottles of Prosecco to my Rotary club meeting and share a glass or two with my Rotary chums – such an act would certainly be a discussion starter! I think that might be more effective than another thought which came to me – namely to erect a sign outside my house with the words ‘empty tomb for sale’! I looked into the possibility of creating an Easter tableau in my front garden, but to my amazement a set of Easter figures retails at £1429 (this is made up of a 28” figure of the Risen Christ, a 14” figure of a kneeling woman, and three 18” other figures) – that’s a lot of money to lose if the figures were to be stolen! In one way or another, let’s be creative in sharing in sharing our Easter joy. Let’s make the most of the Easter season.