I'm beginning to roll out some basic "teaching" about the liturgical year with the congregation I serve. It might be useful here as well!
We mark times in a lot of ways – when I lived in the country, I marked time by the crops in the fields – I knew when the soy beans sprouted, when the corn tassled and when the soy beans turned yellow. Maybe you mark time by the traditional events of the school year – back to school, grading quarters, Spring Break, graduation season. And we all know “someone” who marks time by sports season – football play-offs, March Madness, the baseball boys of summer.
With a different kind of calendar, the worldwide church marks time through seasons of watching, waiting, renewal, growth and celebration. Technically, the church year “begins” in the first week of Advent as we await Christ’s entry as light of the world. After Advent and Christmas, we observe the Epiphany, a season of revelation. Our attention turns for a few short weeks to something called “Ordinary Time” and then Lent begins.
Like waking from the dark, damp rest of winter, we emerge from the season of Lent into new life. Lent marks the 40 days that lead up to Easter, and during that time, the church remembers Jesus’ life, ministry and most especially, the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. During Lent, many churches use the color purple to cover the altar or the pulpit. There might be times of fasting or prayers and services of healing. Perhaps there is a Wednesday night meal and study for the church community. Lent ends with three days that mark a single act of worship when we, with our brothers and sisters in Christ worldwide, observe and remember the last hours of Jesus’ life – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.
Just as spring erupts with sudden bursts of bloom, we rise on “Easter Sunday” embracing the miracle of life after death. Dead places are made new, and in the church we’ll see altar coverings change to white. Perhaps where altars have been unadorned, there will be flowers galore. Some churches even “bury the Alleluia” during the season of Lent but return to joyful shouts of Alleluia in Easter.
Eastertide is its own season of the year, not just a single Sunday on the calendar, but 8 Sundays that lead to Pentecost. In some churches, baptisms or confirmation happen as part of Eastertide celebrations. The season unfolds as we explore what it means to recognize a living Christ. Perhaps we don’t have all the hoopla as the single Sunday we’ve come to recognize as “Easter Sunday,” but each Sunday in the season is a celebration of the risen Christ. As Spring as a season for planting and new growth, Eastertide is a season that sets the stage for the rest of our year.