50 Days of Easter?

8:55 AM My good friend and fellow New Testament teacher Allan Bevere asks:

On Ash Wednesday we are invited to observe a holy Lent for forty days. Why are we not similarly invited to observe a joyful Easter for fifty days following the morning the empty tomb is discovered?

In one strand of Protestantism there are traditions involving holy days: the 40 days of Lent, the 50 days of Easter, etc. Allan argues that Easter is the most significant of these holy days. If this is true, then why, he asks, do we not celebrate “the full fifty days of the Easter season?”

For me, a Baptist, I suppose the first answer that comes to mind is, “Where is the biblical requirement that I do so?” But such cynicism can often be an obstacle to real understanding. Methodists observe holy days, and they obviously do so for legitimate reasons (at least in their minds). So Allan’s question is a legitimate one. He raises a good point that deserves serious consideration.

My guess is that the current generation of youthful believers is not likely to pay too much attention to it, however. They are too busy screaming, “Why are Christians so mean and angry? Why do they insist on putting Christ in the White House when Jesus used to hang out with lepers? Who do churches spend so much money on themselves? Why do so many strands of Christianity smack of power and hubris when Jesus humbly served others?” If we’re not careful, we Christians (Methodists and Baptists alike) can easily prioritize tradition over engagement. Still, Allan’s essay is worth careful study. It seems to me that a good place to start is Paul’s teaching in Rom. 14:1-12 (The Message).

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

Paul seems to be making three points here:

1) Whether or not we follow any particular “holy day” is a matter of personal conscience and conviction.

2) Either way we choose, we are to live each day for the glory of God and in cooperation with those with whom we disagree about such non-essentials.

3) Jesus died and rose again not only so that He could save us from sin but so that He could “free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.”

Believe it or not, this is a matter I want to discuss with my students next fall as I teach Romans and 1-2 Corinthians. Let’s put the difficult questions before our students. Let’s teach them to ask hard questions about why they do what they do in their churches. Let’s stop patronizing them because — let me tell you — millennials are very capable of thinking for themselves. Lest you think that Allan’s question is irrelevant to Baptists, think of all of our own “holy” observances — from the “annual revival meeting” to the “Christmas cantata” to “youth Sunday.” Good friends can discuss such matters without getting put out with each other. Jesus can handle it. When Paul says, “One person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other,” I tend to find myself in the latter camp. And yet I see the logic behind the church calendar. As Methodist New Testament scholar Ben Witherington puts it in his essay Happy New Year!!:

My suggestion to us all is to live in the Christian moment for the entire year to come— Advent leads to Christmas, which leads to Epiphany which leads to Lent which leads to Easter which leads to Pentecost which leads to Kingdomtide and then we start the cycle over again. The cycle begins with the story of Christ, moves on to the story of the church, and returns once more to the story of Christ’s Comings on the first Sunday in Advent. We are on a pilgrimage with Jesus and then on our own until he returns. His story is the story we must recite and retell until it becomes our story. My suggestion is that whenever we are in danger of getting caught up in the non-Christian moment with its own urgencies that we say to ourselves ‘all in God’s good time’. God’s good time and timing is what we should be living by.

For Ben, the church year is all about Christ, about His story, about a kingdom of God that is tangible, about living in the midst of a ridiculous pagan culture that tailors its calendar to retail sales. No, I don’t think Allan or Ben or any other Methodist scholar I know of is trying to impose a new set of legalisms on the church. Customs are fine as long as we attach no salvific significance to them. Perhaps, in the end, the real question is the evangelistic one. Secular culture recognizes our holy days, but people seem woefully confused about our love. Which is why Paul concluded (NLT):

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating.

This is the kind of scandalous love that drives the world crazy — or should I say sane? Followers of Jesus (of whatever denominational stripe) live by an “others-first” credo that only people who are secure both in themselves and in their Savior can pull off. Perhaps when not-yet-believers see this kind of love in action they’ll stop and ask, “Maybe this kind of love is for me too?”

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

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