My students in middle school chapel all agree with me that they look forward to Christmas. Along about Halloween the stores are displaying their obnoxious Christmas sale signs, and by Thanksgiving, we are in full holiday mode. Truthfully, it doesn’t bother me. Like my students I enjoy the school days between Thanksgiving and Christmas because they are light-hearted and seem carefree. We all know “the holidays” are coming. The expectancy is almost better than the holiday itself. Seeing Christmas from 30 or 40 days out gentles our outlook on everything and casts the most common tasks with the soft backlight of the season of joy.
I ask my students if they get the same pitter-patter in their hearts and the same skip in their step as we round the corner of Ash Wednesday and embrace the season of Lent. Easter, after all, is only about 40 days away, and I’m curious to know if their anticipation matches that
of the Nativity. We don’t have the commercial signals blaring at us quite so loudly. There are no early sightings of the Easter bunny or eggs or candy baskets. There are no parades to kick off a shopping season. Not surprisingly, my students admit that they don’t anticipate Easter nearly the way they do Christmas.
I feign surprise at them. After all, don’t they know that, while there are twelve days of Christmas, there are forty days of Easter? That’s right! Easter is no more a single day than Christmas is. Easter is a long season more than three times the length of Christmas! Don’t they know why? The earliest Christians hardly acknowledged Christmas until at least the third century AD. They did celebrate Easter from the moment the resurrection was affirmed. Meeting every Sunday as a “little Easter,” the early Church could not get over the good news that the Lord had risen from the dead. Easter is the earliest known part of the liturgical calendar, and it is the longest single festival season. That it might pass as “another Sunday,” would have been astonishing to our forebears. That suggests to me that our affections and rhythms of holiday celebration are quite possibly shaped by drivers other than the actual truth of the Christian Gospel. As important as the Incarnation is, no one celebrated with presents until about 150 years ago!
But Easter? Oh my! The Church has reveled in its glory from the start. I’m not suggesting we reduce our joy at Christmas. I am suggesting that we try to scale up our celebration of the resurrection! If the resurrection is true, and Christ rose from the dead, and if it is true that He has conquered death, then
we really have something that makes our hearts skip a beat. As one theologian puts it, “It’s the kind of thing that should drive us into the streets with joy, knocking hats off people, grabbing them by the shoulders and shouting that death is over.” When WW2 ended this is exactly what people did.
They even kissed one another in Times Square. They couldn’t believe there would be no more fighting, sorrow, hardship and death. Easter tells us that a longer and greater war is now over. So it’s time to be happy. It’s time to think about the greatest holiday ever.