We had a good friend whose birthday was in February. Each year she would celebrate her birthday the entire month of February, calling it "Birthday Month." I always thought that was such a great idea. Of course, she always brought a lot of fun to anything she did. She was inventive and smart and thoughtful, always remembering the birthdays of others also and bringing special little gifts that were connected to them in some way. She passed away at this time of year a few years back (actually 6-8 years but I am embarrassed to say that I cannot remember how many now--I just know that I continue to remember her life, and especially in the Easter Season, which is now.)
Easter is more than a day. It is a season. I know that many people do not observe Easter Season any more than they observe Christmas Season which begins on Christmas Day and concludes on January 6, which is called Epiphany. To those of us who work in professions where we use the Christian Calendar in addition to the regular calendar, we note the special days and we think about them in relation to our lives. Easter Day was April 20 this year and Easter Season began that day and will continue until Pentecost Day which is June 8 this year. Each Sunday in Easter Season we read and hear stories from the Bible that have something to do with one of the resurrection appearances of Jesus.
Last week we had the traditional Second Sunday of Easter text from John's Gospel where Jesus walked through a wall into a room where the disciples were hidden away in the evening of Easter Sunday. We had read the text from Matthew on Easter Sunday about Jesus appearing to the women who came to the tomb. Then, from John's perspective, we heard another part of the story, this time one about a resurrected Jesus who just popped into and out of people's lives as he would. Not even locked doors could keep him out. He would just walk through the wall and surprise folks and show his scars to them to prove it was really him. He did it for the disciples and then for Thomas (who had been gone on an errand when he came around the first time) and all believed it was Jesus himself.
So, this week, the Third Sunday of Easter, we turn to Luke's side of the story, one in which mournful disciples decided to get out of the city (Jerusalem) and take out for Emmaus. As they walked along, this stranger joined them on their walk, without them knowing it was Jesus. Somehow he remained unknown to them as they walked and talked together and they chatted freely with him about all that had happened in Jerusalem when Jesus was murdered. It was only when they invited him to have dinner with him and to stay the night (extending to him the usual Mediterranean hospitality of the era) when he was revealed to them. Suddenly, just like in John's Gospel, he was gone, disappeared from sight. They were so excited that they had met Jesus that they ran all the way back to Jerusalem, despite the late hour, to tell the others about Jesus' visit with them.
That is the Easter pattern. Each week, a new side of the story from one of the Gospels either reveals a resurrection appearance of Jesus OR tells something about Jesus that reveals who he is to Christians (such as the Good Shepherd the next Sunday after this coming one) until finally we get to Ascension Sunday and we have to wave goodbye to Jesus as he goes back to God again. Each Sunday is a teaching moment, one in which we think about why Easter is so important to us as Christians and to the Church as the institution that continues to promote Easter.
Easter was the first official celebration of the Church. It began almost immediately after the Church formed and became active in the Roman Empire. Easter Sunday became the model for each Sunday and regular Sundays were referred to as "Little Easters". Each Sunday we meet throughout the year is one to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Only those who had been baptized as Christians (and baptism only took place one time a year, on Easter Sunday) were allowed to be present for the entire worship service on a Sunday. Those who had not been baptized were dismissed from worship when it was time to offer the sacrament of Holy Communion. The non-baptized were sent away with a Holy Kiss (what we call Passing the Peace now) and they did not get to witness what happened in Holy Communion. That was reserved for fully initiated members of the Christian Community. So, anyone could visit a service of Christians but you had to take the final step of being baptized and pledge your allegiance to Christ and the Church in order to receive or even witness Holy Communion.
So, Easter was huge celebration in the Early Church and its celebration lasted throughout the year so that the Easter spirit would never be diminished. Every Sunday was a Little Easter and every day was a celebration of life as persons would rise and greet the sun and breath in the new life God gave persons in order to live another day.
Perhaps that is not a bad way of our looking at life too. When we awake from our grave of sleep and rinse the yukky feeling out of our mouths and throw water in our faces so we can see our surroundings, maybe we can think about it being a metaphor or coming back to life each day. When we awaken ourselves and see the morning sun coming up in the east, perhaps it is a sign of new life to us also. Perhaps we should follow the pattern of a good friend of mine who looks into the morning sun, brings his hands up above his head and takes in a big breath, and then lets it out to receive the breath of life once more to live that day. Easter is always with us to bring us new life and to enable us to face the challenges that each new day may bring.