The (1979) Book of Common Prayer, on p. 15, sets forth the rule for calculating the date of Easter (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox). With that bit of knowledge, along with the information the Christmas always falls on December 25, the entirety of the (western) Christian liturgical year can be deduced.
The 1928 Prayer Book interestingly, makes this inferential connection more explicit (on p. L): “Easter Day, on which the rest depend … ”
On which the rest depend.
Now, this is in all likelihood a straightforward technical observation, without any intended spiritual or theological significance. But looking at it more … poetically … we can see a very rich extra layer of meaning. In this dimension, “all else” doesn’t refer merely to the rest of the liturgical year, but to … all else. Literally. If Christ is not risen from the dead, then you and I are captive to a pernicious delusion, and the religion we practice means less than nothing. If Christ is risen from the dead, then nothing else matters (because it’s all subsumed into the inexhaustible meaning of the resurrection).
My favorite definition of God comes from the late Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson: “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having first raised Israel from Egypt.”
Although there are fewer practicing Christians in our society than there used to be, Easter is still a big deal among those who keep the faith. We come together and sing our Alleluias and strew lilies about and do the things that a community does when it’s in a celebretory mode. I often wonder, though about the extent to which we allow that festivity to spill over into the rest of our lives.
The resurrection of Christ is the ultimate game-changer. There is no area of human life that is left unaffected. The most obvious example is how we face death–our own and those whom we love. As we remind ourselves in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, because through baptism we share in a death like his, we also share in a resurrection like his. Death is no longer the sum of all our fears. It is a somber event, and it inflicts pain, but we face it with hope, confident that Jesus’ conquest of death is the template for our own. The burial liturgy in our Prayer Book is suffused with this gospel hope.
But wait–as they used to say on the late-night infomercials–there’s more! The “macro” pattern of dying and rising can be discerned at a “micro” level just about anywhere we look. Every day, each of us suffers some king of loss–difficulty in a relationship, illness, a financial setback, an agonizing decision, the news at national or world levels, or something as trivial as not making it to an intersection before the light changes. In each of these instances, from the profound to the trivial, we have an opportunity to consecrate such losses to mystery of divine grace, placing them at the foot of the cross, and transcending them in the power of the resurrection. It is a habit that transforms our souls, and eventually will enable us to be in the unfiltered presence of God without being pulverized.
Consciousness of the resurrection can also help us frame conversations about social evils, like racism. The recent meeting of the House of Bishops (all on Zoom) focused on racism–recognizing it, understanding it, and resisting it. This is certainly an appropriate and worthwhile subject for church leaders to deal with. I was dismayed, however, when our outside presenters revealed that we were the first “faith-based organization” that they have been contracted to work with. Our conversation was completely within the categories of secular discourse around racism. We may as well have been the Rotary Club. What a missed opportunity! The gospel of Jesus Christ, grounded in the reality of the resurrection, is teeming with resources through which to approach issues of race. We left a treasure trove on the side of the road.
My beloved, there is mandatory rejoicing for the next several weeks. And I say … party on! But let’s not settle for slim pickin’s when there’s a feast in front of us. Let’s allow the power of Christ’s resurrection to infiltrate every area of our lives.
Easter Day … on which the rest depend.