The Great Fifty Days of Easter
Easter Sunday begins the fifty days of the Easter season with the story of the empty tomb and the charge of the messengers to “go and tell!” For the next forty days – until Ascension Day – Christians tell and retell stories of Jesus’ first followers who encountered him against all hope – amidst doubt, fear, and longing – risen from the dead.
Easter Day is the principal feast of the church year. The word “Easter” comes from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess whose name is associated with springtime, growth, and fertility. In most languages the name of the day is Pascha, which means “Passover.”
The Great Fifty Days of Easter, beginning with Easter week, are the time when those who have reaffirmed their baptismal vows or have been baptized at the Easter Vigil reflect on the meaning of their baptism. Through the lectionary texts they explore the “mysteries” of their faith. The early church called this period of the process mystagogia. We look at events in the church’s life – the sacraments, the accounts of the resurrection, and the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus – to discover their meaning and what they tell us about how we as a community are to live the life of the Risen Lord. Today the whole church enters into this period of uncovering anew the mysteries of faith expressed in sacrament, word, and life lived for others.
Sequential readings from the Acts of the Apostles are read during the Great Fifty days because we need to hear the story of the first-century church in order to understand our mission in the church today. In the Acts of the Apostles, the followers of Jesus suddenly realize that through the Holy Spirit they have the power to heal, to preach, to turn lives around, to witness to the presence of God and the coming reign of God in the world.
A course of reading from 1 Peter is heard each Sunday of the weeks of Easter in Year A. Some scholars believe that this letter is actually an early baptismal rite that included exhortations, sermons, and so forth. Thus we are formed during Easter with the same understanding of baptism that was given to the earliest converts.
Alternative selections from the Hebrew Scripture that are in thematic harmony with the gospel lections or with the Easter themes are provided in all three years. When the Hebrew Scripture is selection is used, it replaces either the reading from Acts or the reading from 1 Peter.
An Outline of the Faith
Commonly called the Catechism, this is an outline of instruction cast in the tradition question and answer form. It is a point of departure for exploring the beliefs and practices of The Episcopal Church. The following areas are especially appropriate to study during this season. It begins on page 845 of the BCP.
- God the Son
- The New Covenant
- The Holy Spirit
- Holy Baptism
- The Holy Eucharist
- The Christian Hope