Once again, the church is out of step with the world’s calendar.
If the World pays any attention at all to Easter (which it seems to do less and less) it understands it as a single day, a Sunday that falls some time in the spring according to a complicated formula that no one really understands. It may be a time to buy new clothes, a time for children to hunt for eggs, a time to eat disgusting pastel marshmallow chicks and hollow chocolate bunnies. It may be a day when folks who seldom go to church decide that they ought to, but even that vestigial urge seems to be waning.
If the World pays attention at all, it might remember that many Christians have extra, kind of weird services in the week leading up to Easter. The World might even notice that some Christians observe a longer season of Lent before Easter (or talk about why they don’t observe it). In any case, though, it’s all over after brunch on Sunday, and the World can get back to business on Monday morning, right?
Well, no. Easter isn’t just a day (which, incidentally, is set as the Sunday following the full moon that falls on or after the Vernal Equinox, in case you were wondering). Easter begins with the Gloria in Excelsis in the middle of the Great Vigil on Holy Saturday night, and continues for fifty days, ending on the Day of Pentecost.
Okay, fine, the church says that the Easter season continues through the spring. We use the fancier hangings on the altar and we don’t have to say the Confession every week. But it’s not like anything is really different, is it?
Well, yes it is. Easter is a watershed. That moment when we say “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” and the lights come up and we ring the bells – that is a hinge in time. That is the great Singularity. Before that moment, we are subject to the World and its powers and principalities, and after that moment we are raised with Christ to eternal life, reconciled through him to God our creator. That moment last Saturday night is the moment: the same as that moment two thousand years ago when the stone rolled back and Jesus stepped triumphantly from the tomb.
But wait a minute. That moment two thousand years ago happened once. That moment at the Great Vigil happens every year. How can we be sinful on Friday and redeemed on Sunday, when the same thing happened last year?
We know that in God, all times are one. But even putting that aside, I think there is something more significant here. It’s not as though we get our spiritual oil changed at Easter, and then gradually accumulate sin and guilt like gunk in an engine over the course of the year, only to have it flushed out and refilled again next year.
We are swimming in sin every day of the year. But more importantly, we are redeemed by grace every moment of every day. We live on the Easter side of that great hinge, so we are reconciled to God in spite of sin – simultaneously justified and a sinner, as Brother Martin once wrote.
So it makes sense that Easter, the great before and after, can happen again every year. Every year, we are saved again, reconciled again, raised from death into life again. Every day, whether it is a Friday in Lent or a Sunday during the Great Fifty Days, we continue in dire need of God’s saving grace.
We live it every year. Every day is the great before and after. Every moment is the moment.