Is Your Easter Celebration A Waste of Time?

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The celebration of Easter 2011 is less than two months away.  Churches are formulating plans for a meaningful day of worship and ministry knowing they will potentially reach more attendees than on any other Sunday of the year.  If those congregations and yours affirm Easter as the most important celebration of the church year and the basis for our hope, why limit its observance to one Sunday a year?  Has our concern with appearing too liturgical caused us to miss an entire season of remembrance, celebration, and worship?

The observance of Easter in the early church was more than just a one-day historical remembrance.  The celebration of the Paschal mystery was set aside not only to remember that Christ was crucified and rose again, but to celebrate His appearance following His resurrection, His ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and His ultimate return.  Because of their great joy, early Christians began this celebration with Easter and continued for fifty days until Pentecost.  Revisiting the mystery of the resurrection through an expanded celebration could assist in worship renewal through the theological realization that this celebration of redemption, sanctification, salvation, renewal, and victory must not be limited to one day.

Some congregations and even entire denominations have not traditionally embraced the Great Fifty Days and other elements of the Christian calendar primarily out of a concern of rigidity, conformity, loss of autonomy, or fear of appearing too “Catholic.”  Additional desire for worship creativity has caused congregations to look elsewhere out of concern that annual celebrations promote monotony.  Timothy Carson states that, “Exactly the opposite may be true.  Because it has stood the test of time, it may be sufficiently deep to allow me to swim more deeply in it.  Because it is repeated, I have another chance, today, to go where I could not go yesterday.”[1]  Even as congregations avoid the Christian calendar, they affirm the annual observance of cultural and denominational days of celebration whose foundations are not always biblically grounded.[2]   The irony is found in the realization that in the development of these denominational and cultural calendars we have created denominational liturgies as a response to our desire to be non-liturgical.

To avoid Christian calendar days that are celebrated during the same time of the year as the cultural, denominational, and civic days is to ignore the very foundation of the Church.  Is it possible to converge holidays significant to our cultural and denominational calendar with the Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom?  Is there any reason why Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday, and Memorial Day cannot be celebrated in the same season as Ascension Day and Pentecost?   For this shift to occur, congregations must understand the significance of Easter beyond a one-day celebration.  “For the explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.”[3]

A renewed interest in the Christian year by some congregations is based on a deeper understanding of this calendar as the ideal starting point for structuring seasonal worship.  The theme of the fifty days of Easter as one single celebration provides a connection with Christians of the past church and unifies Christians of the present church in a continuous ecumenical approach.  Observing this celebration could help congregations “recover the transforming news that Jesus’ past resurrection dramatically transforms present and future reality.”[4]  Additionally, it will help them delight in the knowledge that Jesus’ death and resurrection is stamped on their spiritual biographies.[5]  Although observing elements of the Christian year such as the Great Fifty Days may be a stretch for your congregation, consider making that decision based on a deeper biblical, theological, and historical understanding…not a decision based solely on traditionalism.    

 


[1] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship, (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 57.

[2] Idid., 56.

[3] Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church,  (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 53.

[4] John D. Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding: Windows into Christian Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 290.

[5] Ibid.

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8 Responses to “Is Your Easter Celebration A Waste of Time?”

  • Rob Hewell Says:

    David … Bravo.

  • David Manner Says:

    Mike, thanks for the response. You have come the realization and have actually experienced historical, theological, and biblical worship that is the foundation for how we do and don’t worship presently. You have helped us understand that worship outside our culture and tradition is not some mystical event that will compromise our doctrine and theological foundation but will actually enhance it. We could all learn from that.

  • Mike Mitchell Says:

    I started Christmas midnight mass in high school, and was introduced to Lent at the military chapel in Germany. But for the past 5 years, I’ve been getting my liturgy fix in a Messianic congregation. It deepens my understanding of scripture to celebrate the same holidays Jesus observed, expressing the Christian meaning so clear in the texts. This year, Passover begins the Monday evening of Holy Week, where we will raise the cup of redemption and taste the middle matzoh, which is broken, hidden away in a cloth, redeemed after the meal and raised high for all to see. And even as I sing three services Easter Sunday in the Baptist church, I will also be celebrating the Feast of First Fruits, the lifting up of the early crop. As I begin the ritual cleaning of the house and the weeks of reflection, it will look like Lent, but with special meanings.

  • Tom Wideman Says:

    You mean to tell me Mother’s Day isn’t biblical?,

  • Duane Hines Says:

    David, I must agree with your friend, Ron. When I first started at Northern Hills, they had already been observing Advent. I thought it really strange, but over the 14 years I’ve been there, I’ve really come to love that time of year to prepare my heart for the celebration of the birth of our Messiah and Lord. However, what makes me think that the rest of the liturgical calendar is a “no-no” for our congregation? I married into a family with a variety of denominations, Catholic included. I’ve been to several midnight masses on Christmas Eve, as well as other times of the year. What a great experience it is. Thanks, David, for this reminder!

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  • David Manner Says:

    Ron, thanks for the encouragement. Yes, you were a great influence on me in my high school and college years. I am really glad our paths crossed in those years and that we have reconnected after all these years. I do believe we missed out on some meaningful worship opportunities by minimizing some of those foundational calendar elements. Hopefully churches will see their value for worship renewal by revisiting some of those elements. Those calendar celebrations cross musical lines since their focus is on content and not style. Thanks for the response.

  • Ron Hatley Says:

    I love this article, David. Thank you so much for posting it. We do follow the liturgical calendar at my Presbyterian church but it has taken me a while to catch up to it. As a kid growing up in the SBC, the liturgical calendar was avoided like the plague. As your article suggests, it was considered to Catholic. Now, here you are a key figure in the denomination advocating the return to (or at least some recognition of the importance of) the liturgical calendar. Wow, I never saw that coming. I applaud your sensitivity to swimming deeper. That singular issue is missing from so many worship services today. It’s humbling to know you and to think that I may have had some impact on your young life. Keep up the good work.

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