Easter is ending. The season of Easter, that is. The fifty days that stretch from the early hours of Easter Sunday, when the tomb was found to be empty, to the excited celebration of Pentecost Sunday, the so-called “birthday of the church”, when the Spirit rested on the gathered believers.
The season of Easter has fifty days. Every year, this season heads singlemindedly towards the festival of Pentecost, which, of course, means the 50th day. That is the time when we focus on the gift of the spirit.
The ancient Jews, who first celebrated this festival long before the time of Jesus, called Pentecost “Shavuot” in their language, Hebrew. “Shavuot” means Weeks—and this festival was marked by counting “a week of weeks”. Seven days to a week, and so seven weeks itself was a week of weeks. 7 X 7 = 49; thus Pentecost, the day after the 49th day, was so named.
Pentecost falls on 31 May this year. (It moves around, because it is linked, by the above calculations, to Easter—and Easter itself depends on when the full moon falls.) So, over the last seven weeks, since the middle of April, we have been in the extended season of Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection.
Christian faith is grounded in the claim, that on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. It is integral to all the creeds that the church has developed over the centuries. It sits as part of the bedrock tradition which the apostle Paul affirms in his letters to early communities of faith. And it forms the climax to three of the Gospels which are included in our New Testament (only three, not all four, since there is no risen Jesus who actually appears in Mark, neither in physical form nor in any other form.)
So how have we celebrated resurrection during this season of Easter in 2020? It has been a most unusual Easter season—quite unique, in fact, because the onset of the COVID-19 virus has meant that no church door, not any church door across Australia (and across most of the world), has been open. Not on Easter Sunday. Not on any subsequent Sunday during the season of Easter. Not on any day, in fact, throughout those 49 days—and before that, earlier, not since the Sunday some weeks earlier, when the Federal Government, in Australia, declared that the virus meant it was too dangerous to meet for worship in church buildings.
Resurrection invites us to celebrate new life. That causes us to reflect, perhaps, on what life has been like, for us, during this season of Easter. In what way have we been catapulted into a way of living that equates with “new life”? All too often, I have heard about what people are missing during this current period—we miss our worship together in person, we miss our coffee and chat after worship, we miss being able to hug each other when we see them, we miss visiting our family members, and so on.
What about we ask: what new things have we appreciated? What has happened over the past ten weeks that has opened new doors, invited new activities, fostered new relationships? After all, the resurrection is about a new way of being, a new way of living, a new experience in faith. So let’s ask, what new things have occurred?
In my own experience, using online technology has enabled me to make good “face-to-face” contact, often on a regular basis, with ministry leaders (both lay and ordained) from right around this Presbytery. That has saved many kilometres of travel, many litres of fuel, and many hours behind the wheel—and produced far fewer emissions into the atmosphere!
And I know that a number of people have learnt new skills: how many new ZOOM masters are there, now? And some of our Congregations are taking part in Florida’s Reimagined, planting bulbs in the church grounds which will be a riot of colour in spring.
For Congregations where ZOOM breakout rooms have been utilised, people are talking about the new friendships they now have, the deeper conversations they have had with people they have known for a long time, the new perspectives on life that they have encountered. Our Presbytery meeting offered this opportunity, for people from different regions across the Presbytery to talk together.
These things can each be a pointer to the ways that Easter lead us into “new life”. What new things have been taking place for you, that you can celebrate and enjoy? And perhaps keep hold of, beyond the time of restrictions on meeting in person. What can we take from this very different Easter season, into our walk of faith in the days ahead?