Eastertide = the ebb and flow of the ocean level on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Not exactly! But that’s a more likely answer than most people might give if asked for a definition of that word. Eastertide is in fact the liturgical season in the Christian calendar that begins on Easter Sunday and ends seven weeks later on Pentecost. (April 5 – May 24 this year). Just as Christmas doesn’t officially end till Epiphany, the season of Easter lasts much longer than the peeps and chocolate bunnies, but one would never know it to observe most Christians or most churches.
The standing room only crowds last Sunday will shrink to a “low Sunday” attendance like that first big drop on a roller coaster, the lilies and Easter finery and decorations will be gone. It’s almost as if Jesus goes back into the tomb like the groundhog that sees his shadow on February 2nd.
The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith and ironically one of the hardest things for Christians and non-Christians to believe. St. Paul says, “But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (I Cor. 1:23). The original version of Mark’s Gospel, the earliest one written, ends with the women fleeing from the empty tomb “because terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8).
Do we do the same thing by failing to move into Eastertide with no significant changes to our way of living? Do we struggle with the resurrection because it defies all scientific and logical experience we’ve had with death? We’ve all lost beloved relatives, even pets that leave a huge hole in our hearts, and no matter how much we wish it weren’t so, they don’t come back.
So often we approach Eastertide from that perspective, and it keeps us from being able to trust the unbelievable news that resurrection is real, that it can make a lasting difference in our lives. We want to change, we want to live by faith, we want to take that leap of faith; but we don’t want to look foolish, we don’t want to be disappointed.
I remember a day many years ago when I was a student at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. I don’t remember details of what happened in class that day, but I remember the ecstatic feeling of something extraordinary being said or done that transformed deadness in my heart and soul to a new enthusiastic spirit-filled joy. As I was leaving class that day I came out the front door of the building where we had met onto a large front porch of one of the beautiful Georgian buildings there so excited and full of life that instead of going left and down the porch steps I ran forward and took a flying leap over the large hedge that grew along the length of the porch. As I was air-born I remember suddenly realizing I wasn’t sure what was on the other side of that hedge.
So it is with death-defying faith. Faith is not intellectual belief – it is radical trust in a wild and crazy God who rolls away any boulder that keeps us imprisoned in doubt and fear, that keeps us from taking the leap of faith. When we play it safe, when we go along to get along, when we refuse to challenge political, economic, and environmental practices that kill dreams and perpetuate injustice, we are in effect rolling the stone back in front of the tomb and trying to keep Jesus from challenging the status quo of our broken world where fear silences faith. Just celebrating Easter Sunday and ignoring Eastertide is like locking the barn door after the horse has already escaped. It’s too late. God’s verdict has already declared life the victor over death and nothing we do or fail to do can ever put that genie back in the bottle.
One of my all-time favorite statements of what Easter living means came from the late Dwight Loder who was my bishop here in Ohio from 1976-1984. In a sermon he preached in the mid-1980’s Bishop Loder said, “Jesus was not resurrected by the church. Jesus was not resurrected for the church. Jesus was resurrected as the church.” Faith in resurrection is so much more than a personal assurance about our own salvation and eternal life. If we as individual Christians and collectively as the church, the body of Christ, fail to be changed by Easter, we are sending a terrible message to the world and to those longing for Good News that it’s back to business as usual after Easter Sunday.
Don’t believe it. Those frightened women at the tomb and Jesus’ other followers were scared into silence for a while, but God wasn’t finished with them. God always has the last word, and the stories in the Gospels during Eastertide are even more remarkable than the empty tomb. Skeptics could say the tomb was empty because someone simply came and took the body away. But the risen Christ appears over and over again to those who have eyes and ears to see and believe — on the road to Emmaus, in a locked upper room, on the beach. He continues to challenge his followers to be living witnesses that his spirit endures as the resurrected, life-giving, justice and peace promoting force for all that is good and pure in a world dying for Good News.
Easter Sunday is over, but Eastertide has just begun; and the life-giving Holy Spirit is waiting in the wings to blow into our lives with full force on Pentecost if we dare to believe. Resurrection is a spiritual event and how we live our lives in the crucible of the here and now is a witness to the world that we have either had our Easter fling and retreated back into the tomb, or we are boldly living as resurrected people. Easter people witness by every decision and act we take that the tide has turned and the light of the world has not and will never be extinguished by the darkness of death.
By the way, the landing on the other side of that hedge was nice soft grass; so it was OK to leap. And the message of Eastertide is “Go ahead, it’s safe to trust in Resurrection!”