Monday, April 9, 2012

The Season of Easter: Journey, or Nearly Random Stops along the Way?

Low tide at Hall's Harbor, Nova Scotia. Public Domain.
Easter.

Big crowds, perhaps some of the most lavish music, art and/or drama of the year, a big dinner (or two!) with family and/or church family, and, very likely, somewhere in the weekend, an egg hunt. And that is after planning and leading special services last weekend (Palm Sunday), and during this week (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, maybe Easter Vigil). It's been like "finals week" for clergy, choirs and worship leaders.

Show's over.

And now, the Monday after.

Low tide.

If you didn't get to withdraw from it all and crash yesterday, today's the day. Maybe this whole week. Maybe next weekend, too.

There may be energy again by the time you get to Pentecost-- energy for another high-tide, a church-wide blow-out, with big music, maybe some baptisms or confirmations, fireworks, balloons, birthday cakes, everyone dressing in red, or whatever folks in your parts use to remember the coming of the Spirit that decisively marched the church into public mission.

But between the blow-outs?

Low Sunday, Native American Awareness Sunday, Mother's Day, Heritage Sunday AND Change the World Weekend, Memorial Day Weekend,  then Ascension Sunday and finally, Pentecost-- right smack dab in the middle of some Annual Conferences. The only "unprogrammed" Sunday in 2014 is March 25.

So at least after Low Sunday, there are plenty of weekly emphases to keep the ball rolling up to Pentecost, right? Almost a "cause of the week!"

The question is, what about the mission of Easter Season as a season?

Easter Season has a mission? Yes! And it's a mission deeply tied to our own mission as United Methodists-- "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

There's an ancient Greek word that describes the mission of this season: "mystagogy."

Mysta-what? Or is that Mista Who?

Mystagogy. (Miss'-ta-go-jee).

Translated into English, that means "leading people into the mysteries."

The Mysteries? What Mysteries?

In the early Church, it was not uncommon for those preparing for baptism never to have been told what to expect of baptism, or anything about the theology of communion, before they actually experienced these things. Most of these early Christians would never have seen either one-- so both experiences would be rather a dramatic surprise.

And intentionally so.

The idea was experience first, explanation later.

Or to put it another way, encounter the mystery of God's saving love in the power of the Holy Spirit first, and then "unpack" the mystery in the weeks following baptism and first communion at Easter.

The mysteries are the sacraments and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives from our new birth forward.

These seven weeks of the Easter Season, then, are and were designed as a time for helping the newly born learn how to speak about what has happened to them in the new birth, and learn how to walk in the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them as new members of the body of Christ.

Just as Lent is a journey culminating in baptism and communion at Easter, Easter Season is a journey from baptism into evangelism and commissioning into ministry in the name of the Risen Christ at Pentecost.

To be sure, there are ways to incorporate the "causes of the week" into this larger, "mystagogical" journey. So it is possible to take the journey while also addressing the "causes."

But just attending to the causes, which, themselves, come in no coherent kind of order, will not easily support people actually taking the journey for which the ancient church created the Easter Season.

So yes, I know we're all tired from Easter celebrations.

But maybe, just maybe, instead of "Low Sunday" followed by a "cause of the week," we can plan for Easter Sunday to become a "Launch Sunday" for the intentional journey of mystagogy and discipleship we and centuries of our forebears in the faith have called Easter Season.


Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards