Digging through some old drafts of Easter posts prepared in years past, but never finalized and published, I came across some entries by Presbyterian pastor Mark D. Roberts. He’s one of those non-Anglicans who “gets” the importance of the liturgical seasons and the rhythms of the church year, and I have often posted his resources. So… several prayers & quotes by Mark D. Roberts will be appearing on the blog this week. Let me start first by posting links to his series on celebrating the full 50 Days of Easter, since that’s a theme near and dear to my heart.
As we all know, even for those of us from liturgical churches, it is very tempting to celebrate Easter for only one day, or one week, and very challenging to remember and practice the celebration of Easter for the full 50 Day Season of “Eastertide.”
Back in 2011 – 2012, Presbyterian pastor and blogger Mark D. Roberts wrote a series examining the tradition of the 50 Day Eastertide season, and giving some practical ideas and encouragement for how to celebrate Easter for more than just a few days. Here are the links to his Eastertide series. Below are exceprts from several of the entries.
- Easter Isn’t Over Yet – An Introduction to Eastertide
- Fifty Days of Easter – What Would We Do?
- Celebrating Fifty Days of Easter: Some Practical Suggestions
- Handel’s Messiah – An Unexpected Easter Masterpiece
- Examining the Words of Handel’s Messiah – Parts 1 & 2
- Examining the Words of Handel’s Messiah – Part 3
During my first year as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I was finally introduced to a Christian community that stretched the celebration of Easter beyond just a day. Our worship director at the time, Loren Wiebe, explained to me that he took Eastertide quite seriously. This meant, for example, that we’d sing Easter hymns, not only on Easter Sunday itself, but also during worship services in the following weeks. I was ready to experiment with all of this, though I must confess it felt rather strange to sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” a couple of weeks after Easter Sunday. (“Christ the Lord is Risen Two Weeks Ago” didn’t work either.) Moreover, the word “Eastertide” sounded strange to me, like some remnant of days gone by. … Slowly, over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate celebrating Easter for more than just a single Sunday.
… I want to write about how we might let [Eastertide] be a time of spiritual growth, a season of deeper intimacy with God. I’ve come to believe that, in many ways, Easter gets short shrift in our churches. As a result, we miss out on some of the richness and joy of a full Easter celebration.
Fifty Days of Easter! What Would We Do?
Celebrating Easter for fifty days is not duplicating Easter Sunday fifty times over, either. Rather, it’s taking time to reflect upon and delight in the truth of Easter and its implications for our lives.
The basic truth of Easter is simple. In the classic litany of the church, it’s this: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! On Easter Sunday, we celebrate this good news, rediscovering for ourselves what the earliest followers of Jesus realized on that first Easter Sunday. Yet the implications of the resurrection are more than we can adequately ponder on one day. Every year, during my sixteen-year pastoral tenure at Irvine Presbyterian Church, when I prepared my Easter sermon, I left dozens of life-changing truths on the cutting room floor. There’s no way I could begin to probe the depths of Easter in a mere 20 minutes. So, I proclaimed the basic truth of the resurrection and explained one or perhaps two implications.
Eastertide provides an opportunity to see “the director’s cut” of the Easter sermon, if you will. The season of Easter gives us a chance to reflect more broadly and deeply on the multifaceted meaning of the resurrection of Jesus.
What might this involve? Let me suggest a few ideas:
• You could meditate upon what the resurrection says about the character of Jesus Christ as the Righteous One of God (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:25-28).
• You might ponder the fact that death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).
• You could reflect upon the fact that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you today (Ephesians 1:15-23).
• You might think of how the resurrection of Jesus is a precursor to your own resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).
• You could consider how the resurrection gives us “new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).
And so on. And so on. Eastertide allows us to think deeply and to pray broadly about what the resurrection of Jesus means, both to us and to our world.
Celebrating Fifty Days of Easter: Some Practical Suggestions
One of the chief activities of Eastertide that I mentioned in my last post is deeper reflection on the meaning of the resurrection. Easter Sunday, as wonderful as it might be, allows us only to go so far. Eastertide opens up new territory for learning and reflection. To this end, I would recommend two books by Eugene Peterson, who is best known as the translator of The Message. The first is called Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life. Here, Peterson reflects on what it would be like to live out the resurrection in our daily lives. The second book is Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ. In some ways, this book is a sequel to Living the Resurrection. It is, in actuality, an exposition of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which is truly a book about how to practice resurrection.
One of my personal traditions, like in the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Holy Week, is to play music with specific Easter themes. Strangely, however, given the importance of Easter to the Christian, there are not nearly as many well-known Easter pieces as there are Christmas or Holy Week compositions. In fact, I have only three recordings that I consider to be Easter-focused.
1. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Easter Oratorio. This joyful cantata narrates the events of Easter morning. To hear excerpts from this recording or to order the Easter Oratorio, click here.
2. Johann Pachelbel’s Easter Cantatas. Yes, the composer of the omnipresent “Canon in D-Major” wrote other pieces, including several Easter cantatas (vocal compositions with accompaniment). Pachelbel, by the way, was a friend of the Bach family, and had some measure of influence on Johann Sebastian himself. Among Pachelbel’s cantatas is one entitled “Christ ist erstanden” (“Christ has risen”). The first few words are: “Christ has risen from all his suffering, of this we should all be glad.”
Handel did not write the Messiah as a piece of Christmas music. We know this for a couple of reasons. First, if you pay close attention to the words of the Messiah in the libretto (the text of the music) written by Charles Jennens, you’ll discover that only the first part of the composition has to do with the birth of Jesus. The second and third parts focus on his death, resurrection, the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the final resurrection of all believers. Second, the first performance of the Messiah occurred, not during Advent or Christmas, but in Eastertide. Handel’s masterpiece was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742, 19 days after Easter. This was surely no accident. If Handel had envisioned the Messiah as a piece for Christmas, it would have been introduced in this season.
Although you may be familiar with the Messiah, it offers many surprises if you carefully examine the libretto. For one thing, the lyrics of this piece are entirely from the Bible (though in a few spots Jennens paraphrased the Authorized Version). For another, though the story of Jesus is a New Testament narrative, the majority of the words in the Messiah come from the Old Testament. Moreover, the key events – the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus – are not told with New Testament texts, but with prophetic passages from the Old Testament.
The Easter section of the Messiah begins in Part II. It delivers the good news of the resurrection in a manner similar to its telling of the birth and death of Jesus. The resurrection isn’t described so much as alluded to through prophetic Scripture, in this case, Psalm 16:10: “But thou didst not leave his soul in hell, nor didst thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.” Following this sweet soprano confession, the whole chorus bursts forth with Psalm 24:7-10: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.” Now, all of heaven is being summoned to receive the risen Christ into glory.
As Part II draws to a close, the libretto connects the victory of Jesus with the sending out of preachers into the world. Thus the Messiah blends the story of Easter into the story of the Pentecost, just as Eastertide bridges Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. Part II ends most gloriously, with the beloved “Hallelujah Chorus.” Yes, it comes, not in the Christmas section, but in the Passion/Resurrection/Pentecost section. “The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” not in the birth of Jesus, but in his death and resurrection.
Part III of Handel’s Messiah returns to the theme of resurrection, at first citing the beloved text from Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” (based on Job 19:25). From this confession that Christ the Redeemer lives, Part III of the Messiah transitions into an extensive exposition of the final resurrection of all people, using many verses from 1 Corinthians 15. It begins by connecting the resurrection of Christ with our own future resurrection: “For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep” (based on 1 Corinthians 15:20). From this point onward Part III includes some of the most joyful and triumphant music of the Messiah, backing up such words as:
“The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible” (based on 1 Corinthians 15:52).
“O Death, where is thy sting?” (based on 1 Corinthians 15:55).
“But thanks be to God who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ” (based on 1 Corinthians 15:57)
The final chorus of the Messiah is one of unabashed worship:
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by his blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Blessing and honour, glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.” (based on Revelation 5:12-13)
What could possibly follow this, other than 3 minutes and 22 seconds of “Amens”?