October 21, 2020

Easter: do we just not “get” it?

Easter Sanctuary smDo we “get” Easter?

This year, I’ve had this sneaking suspicion that I don’t really “get” Easter, and maybe a lot of the churches and Christians I’ve been around don’t either. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! (Repeat 3x.) Yeah, then it’s back to Monday morning and life as usual.

This feeling became intensified when I tried to put together an Easter playlist of music to listen to throughout the Great Fifty Days of the season (didn’t know Easter lasted fifty days? — well, that helps makes part of my point). I found lots of songs about the cross and some of them ended with a climactic verse on the resurrection. But it was hard to find many songs that focused on the resurrection itself and its implications for our lives.

(Compare the number of Christmas songs with the number of Easter songs in any hymnal, or if you’re more hip than that, on any worship music site, and you’ll get the message about what’s more important to us.)

I did find a wonderful new album by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, called Easter at Ephesus, and I highly recommend it. A whole collection of songs and every one reflecting on the resurrection and its meaning! That’s a rarity.

Then I came down here to Gethsemani. Of course, they follow the liturgical year and that means the normally austere sanctuary is decorated with flowers and a magnificent banner of the risen Christ that I can’t take my eyes off of when I’m in one of the services (see above). It is so grand that I think, “How can we just stand here and not look up with joy and hope and exhilaration every moment? How can we chant anything in a minor key or keep from dancing right here and now, with the risen Christ towering over us in glorious splendor?” The services are a bit more celebratory, but nothing like I imagine they could be.

I don’t think this is the fault of the Trappists, but of the liturgical tradition and a lack of imagination by those who practice it. Why, Fat Tuesday is more festive than most of the Sundays in Easter! Every service in this season should be filled with music like the Sinfonia from Bach’s Easter Oratorio, trumpets blaring. Priests and ministers should be splashing baptismal water over congregations each Lord’s Day, dousing them in new life, laughing and jubilant. Let’s have Easter parades galore! Kids’ events as rowdy and playful as egg hunts each week of the season! A continual feast of church suppers, concerts, extravaganzas! One thing our pastor has done since the beginning of the congregation has been to have a fish fry on one of the Sundays after Easter in remembrance of the story in John 21. Love it! Now if only we could have it on the beach!

Shouldn’t Easter Sunday unleash a season of festivity unlike any other? Shouldn’t it bring a time of celebration unmatched by any other season? Why is there not a flood of Easter music? Why not an entire season of feasting, rejoicing, doing good works, showing generosity, practicing hospitality, giving gifts, engaging in special mission and service projects, holding sacred concerts and art festivals, and decorating our homes, churches, and communities with beautiful reminders of new life and hope?

At least the liturgical churches do something. For many Christians outside those traditions, Easter is over at 12:01 Monday morning and it’s time to move on. Gotta get ready for Mother’s Day, I suppose.

But it’s not just what we do (or don’t do) when we get together this time of year. It’s the lack of theology, the lack of in-depth discussion, the lack of consideration, contemplation, and immersion in resurrection life that I’m missing in me and all around me. What difference does it make that Jesus is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father?

I mean, the entire New Testament is predicated on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead! Too many of us are content to merely try and prove that as a fact in the face of skepticism. Or we sidestep its implications for today by making it about: Jesus has risen, and now we’re going to heaven! Is that all it’s about? Apologetics? Angel wings?

And then I read this quote from Christian Wiman:

The problem with so much thinking about Christ’s resurrection and the promise that lies therein is the self-concern that is attendant upon, and often driving, this thought: resurrection matters because we matter, our individual selves; it matters because it is for us. But Christ’s death and resurrection ought to be a means of freeing us from precisely this kind of thinking, this notion of, and regard for, the self, which is the source of so much of our suffering and unhappiness. (“To hoard the self is to grow a colossal sense for the futility of living.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel) Instead, contemporary Christianity all too often preaches an idea of resurrection that is little more than a means of projecting our paltry selves ad infinitum, and the result is a grinning, self-aggrandizing, ironclad kind of happiness that has no truth in it.

My Bright Abyss, p. 165

Thankfully, I got help celebrating Easter Sunday this year, because April 5 was also Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season — for me the perfect alignment of heaven and earth!

But come on, the greatest day of our faith, and I need to watch the Cubs to make it better?

And then what? What about the other forty-nine days? What about the rest of my life?

Something’s wrong here. I don’t get it.


  1. Not only does the evangelical church make short shrift of the Passion, they also ignore the continued celebration of Easter. Why get all worked up for one Sunday when all returns to humdrum on Monday?

  2. turnsalso says

    Another excellent post, CM. I’m looking forward to the commentary on this one.

  3. Unless a celebration is rooted in a significant element of crude hedonism, people just don’t get that excited about it, not even for a single day, at least not in my experience; Easter Sunday at the Lutheran church where I’ve spent my last seven Easter Sundays are just like any other humdrum Sunday, maybe turned up a notch or two, but mostly because of the breakfast served between the two services. People really want to get home and celebrate with family (perhaps I should say, they want to get home and celebrate family) (which kind of leaves my wife and myself out in the cold, since we have no family to celebrate with), but even that has its limits: if they thought they had to celebrate with family (ore celebrate family) for 50 days, the idea would give them great anguish.

    Maybe human beings just aren’t up to celebrating anything for that long; maybe such an extended celebration would be burdensome to them, especially as they had to face all the ongoing vicissitudes and suffering of their lives concurrently and simultaneously. Maybe carving out a little weekend of time to celebrate is all they can manage, and involves a sacrifice, that they just are unable to make; if people had to do more than they already do, imagine they extended upswing of domestic disturbances the police would have to deal with, as they do when the stress just gets too much for people and their families at the holidays. Maybe life is just too hard for a lot of celebrating.

    • People really want to get home and celebrate with family

      Because the people in the church with them are not family, and when they are family, things get weird. Especially if it’s all blood family in the church…

    • I think you hit on some key points. I know i would never be able to keep up a 50-day “celebration” with anything other than teeth-gritting determination.

      Life goes on, and so do we. I am certain this was true for the early church as well.

      • LOL. Indeed, a 50-day celebration sounds like a lot of work. Not only that, there’d be a lot of “Martha”s through the 50 days, complaining about how they’re the only ones doing anything regarding setting up the celebration and maintaining it.

  4. Two excellent posts CM. You’re catching up to Lisa Dye’s standards 🙂

    Here In Sydney it seems the big focus is school holidays which leaves Easter in the shadows. Aussie society is quite secular. The Church is pretty much asleep when it comes to celebration (except for the Pentes who can’t get their finger off the buzzer). In non-liturgical circles, they don’t even remember the Ascension. That should be party time as well.

    It’s pretty hard to celebrate when the Christian community around you don’t. Maybe the celebration should be integrated into the family in a special way…

  5. Re: Wiman’s observation: I confess to being one of those horribly selfish people who find it impossible to really celebrate the goodness of something if that goodness doesn’t in some way lift me. No matter how I try to approach something with detachment, and no matter how I try to set aside concern for myself (and those whose lives directly impinge on myself), I always find that concern for myself ends up being the deciding factor in weighing whether a thing is good or bad or indifferent. If Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t include me, what have I got to celebrate? I’m just as lost as ever if I’m outside the magic circle.

    No, I’m hopelessly narcissistic. The most I can hope for is that my narcissism might be a wide and generous one, wherein I come to recognize that many, perhaps all, people interpenetrate my self and my concern for myself, rather than a narrow and stingy narcissism, wherein my field of identity is pinched down to the dimensions of my medium height, overweight frame.

    • I don’t think Wiman is saying Easter is not about us, we’re just not at the center. As an American, I think a lot of it has to do with our aversion to royalty, pomp and circumstance. Here, everything’s about me and what I can get for myself and my own. The thought of looking up to Someone and offering him praise and obeisance is pretty foreign, and unpalatable, to us.

  6. Burro Malo says

    When I became Orthodox, a wise friend told me – “You’re gonna love the way the Greeks do Easter, but kiss goodbye to Christmas. The East knows how to do Easter, but they really drop the ball on Christmas.” I didn’t know what he meant until I tried to do the Advent Fast last year. Phew! All the gaudy celebrations leading up to Christmas militate strongly against the kind of contemplative atmosphere the Advent Fast wants to invoke, and the Christmas eve service itself is kind of spare. The Byzantine kontakia just don’t resound in the sanctuary like a “Joy To The World” or the Christmas Oratorio.

    There are a couple of pretty Greek carols I didn’t know existed before now.

    It’s Bright Week, the week of meat-gluttony that follows the rigors of Lent and Holy Week (our Pascha was a week after y’all’s Easter this year), so I’m still celebrating with every cheeseburger, and of course some of my favorite hymns are going to be sung in church until Pentecost.

    BTW are all Catholic sanctuaries as sparse as that, or is this a Trappist thing? Are they Jansenists or something? I know Rome got the memo from the Seventh Ecumenical Council, but have they been infected by Protestant iconoclasm recently? Where are all the plaster saints?

  7. I have friends in Eastern Europe who are off work for the entirety of Holy Week, and attend church sometimes several times daily, and sometimes just stay all day long…and sometimes they are quite inebriated. Now, showing up to church tipsy certainly offends our Evangelical sensibilities, unless you’re a Lutheran, like CM :o), or a non-Welch’s swilling high church Baptist pastor, who is quite theologically, an Anglican, like myself. I have to sit back and think, though…Jeez, it’s a party! And if it’s not, then it should be! Excuse me now, I’m going to grab my icons for morning prayers…and I may have a slice of cake for breakfast. It’s Easter! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! The time of fasting and lament is over! Unfortunately, most of our tribe makes the “Alleluia” seem to end with a period at best, a question mark at worst…

  8. One problem as I see it is Paul’s statement that he was going to proclaim nothing but Christ and him crucified. He obviously didn’t mean that literally and he spoke it in context, but a lot of Protestant preachers at the literalist end of the spectrum dump buckets of blood on all like a football player dousing his coach with Gatorade. No mention of the resurrection because Paul said “only Christ crucified” and only means only, you rotten sinners.

    We remember Christ crucified regularly in the Eucharist, as instructed by Jesus himself, and the keeping of his scars in his resurrection body livens that memory forever, but I find the observance as only a remembrance of his death depressing, complete with downcast, funereal faces and dark, sombre thoughts. I am fortunate to assemble with those who celebrate the Eucharist, which means Thanksgiving, as not only thankfulness for the sacrifice of Jesus that freed us all, but for his resurrection life that mysteriously is given anew in the bread and wine each time with joy. And not just for 50 days. I can do Easter year round.

  9. Richard Hershberger says

    “Compare the number of Christmas songs with the number of Easter songs in any hymnal”

    Interesting question. I just pulled out my copy of the two-books-out-of-date hymnal my congregation uses: 33 Christmas hymns, to 19 for Easter. I also looked in the somewhat-less-out-of-date hymnal. The numbers are closer, with more Easter hymns, but Christmas still wins out. This result is notable because, after all, Easter season is over four times longer than Christmas.

    On the Easter side of things, the iconic Easter hymn is a barn burner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBNamFYN_6E. I’m no Wesleyan, but the brothers Wesley could do a mean hymn!

    • I’ll have to look at the hymnals I have more closely. I’m surprised you found 19 and that the comparison with Christmas was that close. In churches that celebrate Easter as a single day, we usually only sing 2-3 per year.

      • Hmm. I actually think 5here were more hymn for Advent than for Christmas in the old abandonded red LCA service book. I counted them once, long ago, when the red book was still in use.

        I bet the Easter total would go way up if you counted all of yhe Holy Week hymns as part of Easter, too. I tend to view them as all of a piece, kinda like the progression of the Psalms of ascent that are used during Passover. But that’s just me. I also think that if people observe Lent, they kinda collapse after Easter. Even moderate observance plus Holy Week services can be pretty intense, and people need a breather.

        • “Even moderate observance plus Holy Week services can be pretty intense, and people need a breather.”

          This year was the first I was aware of Lent as a time of dreary introspection and deprivation with a funeral atmosphere. I don’t like black flowers. I don’t like the Christ candle being unlit for 40 days. I need that Christ candle lit and I find nothing in the Bible story that says there is a period where Christ is unavailable to me. I don’t find anything corresponding to this in the Bible story leading up to the last week Jesus lived in his earthly body. It might be appropriate for the period between Good Friday and Easter when the disciples thought they were lost and abandoned, but we know better now. “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.”

          I do my limit of introspection and sacrifice all year round. I didn’t attend the midweek Lenten services that were offered. Enough is enough. I’m seriously considering next year taking leave during Lent and using the time to go visit other churches, sort of giving up Lent for Lent, see how other people do this time.

          • If I were to choose between emphasizing Lent or the Easter season, Easter would win every time.

          • I agree that Lent can be serious overkill, and prefer Easter and/or Holy Week plus Easter.

            Equally, i have always thought of Advent as queit anticipation.

  10. I have long been interested in creating an Easter playlist and ran across this post from Trevin Wax last year about this topic.


    The post has a long list of recommended songs, and there are even more suggestions from others in the comments. If anyone knows of any other good resurrection-themed songs, I would love to listen to them.

    Thank you Chaplain Mike for the excellent post.

  11. The difference between Easter and Christmas is that Easter is a Christian celebration and Christmas is not. Huh? Well let’s be honest, Christmas has become an overwhelmingly secular social occasion that is only superficially religious. It’s a HOLIDAY. Easter is a specifically Christian occasion that is overtly religious. It’s not a secular holiday. Christians are people too. They follow the larger culture. Any Easter celebration is personally motivated.

    Right before Easter I was watching the local news and as the presenter signed off she was going to wish everyone a Happy Easter. Unfortunately the politically correct module in her brain kicked in (you could almost see the wheels turning) and she realized she couldn’t say happy EASTER because that would be exclusive so she caught herself and said to have a Happy Holiday. But of course it’s not an actual holiday and you could see by her expression that she realized how silly what she said sounded.

    At my Dad’s rural Georgia church they had an Easter egg hunt on Saturday and had a larger attendance than the church service the next day. The cynic buried inside says we should combine the two! The people have spoken!

    • Christmas used to be a 12-day season, with so much revelling that it was banned in Puritan MA.

      I think people need a celebration during the very darkest time of the yesr, and certainly, lights, trees et. al. are evetyone’s property. I have a problem with austerity at Christmas.

      I think Easter is harder to celebrate because it is not something ee have ever seen (tthat is, the resurrection), whereas everyone can relste to the birth of a child. If you are in a lituliturgical church, Advent adds to the poignancy and joy of the season.

      Might be interesting to get some takes from folks who live Down Under, since Easter happens in autumn in their hemisphere…

      • Richard Hershberger says

        “Christmas used to be a 12-day season, with so much revelling that it was banned in Puritan MA.”

        Now it is a month-plus long season of conspicuous consumption, ending on December 25. What is peculiar is how the self-proclaimed defenders of Christmas are gravely offended whenever they note some of this seasonal conspicuous consumption not being explicitly ascribed to Christmas. This is very weird, if we assume that the concern were religiously motivated (or rather, if the religion motivating it were Christianity).

        • I try to keep the retail thing as separate from the rest as possible, which partly comes from having worked a few Christmas retail seasons.

    • Not that long ago, many businesses closed at nokn on Good Friday and stayed closed on Easter Monday.

      Just a thought, which is that death followed by rising ftom the dead is something that is so contrary to our lived experience that it is very, very hwrd to grasp. For me, anyway. Spring, with its perennial renewal, is easier to understand.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Something’s wrong here. I don’t get it.

    “Nobody does. I’m the wind, baby.” — Tom Servo, MST3K


  13. CM,

    Orthodox have a book called the Pentecostarion, with all the prayers for all the days between Pascha and the Sunday after Pentecost, which is our Sunday of All Saints. I can’t find the whole thing on line, but here is a link for the services of Pascha and for each Sunday thereafter. See if that helps to give you what you long for.


    Since Orthodoxy is very eschatological, in the midst of celebrating where we are now we are also looking ahead to the next thing. The Sunday Gospel readings between now and Pentecost are meant to help us anticipate it, and water is often a prominent symbol: we are to thirst for what only Christ can give, esp now that he has fulfilled his Passion. We sing “Christ is Risen” all the time, and pray a set of Resurrection-themed prayers for every Office, until Ascension. Like the time between Good Friday and Easter, the time between Ascension and Pentecost is rather quiet. Pentecost is actually our Trinity Sunday, heavily skewed toward the Holy Spirit, who fully gets his own the next day, the Monday of Pentecost – the Day of the Holy Spirit.


  14. This year I also wondered why did the Easter Celebration end so early. The next Sunday was like any other Sunday without any attention paid that we just celebrated Easter a week early. I felt like being at a New Year’s Eve party that ended at one minute after midnight

    • Richard Hershberger says

      In principle, every Sunday is a celebration of Easter. That is why church is on Sunday, rather than the Sabbath. But yeah, I take your point.

  15. Haven’t finished reading, but…

    Easter is NOT overlooked. Pentecost is. Christmas is the Father’s day, celebrating His giving of the Son. Easter is the Son’s day, celebrating His victory over sin, death, and the devil. Those two generally receive about equal press in any worthy hymnal, or at least close. Now look at the Pentecost section in ANY hymnal. Pretty sad, eh? This one member of the Trinity always gets the short end of the stick. You might say it’s by design, since the Spirit always points to and magnifies Christ. But seriously, the church today needs to make a MUCH bigger deal out of Pentecost to put it on the same level of significance as Christmas and Easter. Those are big three, all other holy days are lesser in priority and significance. Liturgical scholars may correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe that the celebration of Pentecost actually predates Christmas, though I’m pretty sure Easter came first (I have the book in my office, have to look it up later).

    One thing our pastor has done since the beginning of the congregation has been to have a fish fry on one of the Sundays after Easter in remembrance of the story in John 21.

    THIS. Brilliant idea. Maybe a bit late for our people, but talk about a wonderful, appropriately festive local tradition. Kudos!

    • El Burro Malo says

      Holy Theophany, the feast of the revelation of the Holy Trinity

      • Sorry, Mule, my knowledge of Eastern calendars are severely limited, I’ve really got my hands full with the Western tradition and trying to learn and apply it better. I would imagine, however, that the feasts we hold in common are generally the most significant.

    • ” This one member of the Trinity always gets the short end of the stick.”

      Absolutely, Miguel! Totally out of balance. There is a natural correspondence with spiritual reality in three major festivals and we spend all year sitting on a two-legged stool. If you found more pertinent information in the book you mention in your office, I hope you post it here. Maybe few will be back to notice but I will and it may be important to archive as part of this whole posting.

      • Ok, here is it:

        “The jewish spring harvest festival, known as Pentecost (Greek for “fiftieth,” named for the fiftieth day after Passover), was adapted by early Christians to commemorate the first great harvest of believers for Christ. Pentecost was the “birthday” of the Christian Church as the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and they gave their compelling witness to many people about their resurrected Lord. For the first Christians, the celebration of Pentecost was second only to Easter in its importance, which is confirmed by its early date of origin. Beginning at least in the second century, Christians who had not been baptized at the Easter Vigil were baptized on Pentecost.”

        The earliest record we have for the celebration of Christmas is AD 354, and it probably wasn’t quite universal at the time.

        BTW, info taken from this book, a tremendous resource (well documented with copious footnotes to direct further inquiry), and one of the most delightful books I have ever worked through (along with Marva Dawn’s “Reaching Out without Dumbing Down”):

  16. From “The Passion of the Christ” (Oh so little Easter there), to “hell fire and brimstone” revivalists, back through Puritan times, back to the Desert Mothers and Fathers, has not the emphasis been on how sinful we are, how we must deny ourselves pleasure (Celebrations involve way too much pleasure for such sinful worms as we are)? Add to that the presence of crosses as the primary symbol of Christianity, predestination, some of our music, and more, and we have trouble believing that we can celebrate the resurrection because really, in spite of the good news of the gospel, we are still unworthy sinners.

    I know that this probably oversimplifies too much, but it represents how I see the issue.