For Lent this year, I picked up a different kind of devotional compiled by a writing acquaintance of mine, Sarah Arthur. The book–Between Midnight and Dawn–provides a selection of Scripture passages (Psalm, Prophet, Epistle, Gospel) paired with poems and excerpts of fiction from both contemporary and canonized authors for each week of the Lenten season. When I first bought the book, I assumed that the devotional was just for the period of time leading up to Easter, so as I hit Holy Week and still had a good third of the book left to read, I wondered what more could be waiting for me after Easter Sunday.
The traditional season of Lent is supposed to be a period of time to give up chocolate and lose weight… I mean, to reflect upon the days of teaching and conflict that led to the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus. It is a sober period, and not just because we tried to abstain from alcohol this year (loosely… we’re a fallen people who live in freedom and may have had a couple of celebratory drinks with friends). Lent reminds us of our tendencies toward selfishness and our deep need for grace and illuminates again for us God’s incredible covenant commitment to love and accept us in spite of ourselves.
Our denomination (Brethren) is a “low church” tradition and doesn’t typically follow a liturgical calendar, and I didn’t grow up with any real sense of the seasonal rhythms of the church, but most people know about Lent and lots of people know about Easter. After 40 long and punishing days of remembering Jesus’s suffering, we spend one day celebrating his resurrection. He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! And then for most of us, we go back to normal, ordinary time.
But did you know there’s a whole other season in the church calendar after Easter called Eastertide?
I didn’t know that, and after spending the last 18 years in regular church attendance, I feel a little robbed. Eastertide is another 40 days or so blocked off to remember Christ’s resurrected ministry, the freedom and Word and light we are all welcomed into and supposed to live into daily. It’s a period of rejoicing, joining the earth in singing praise to the God of the Universe made man who conquered death and grants us life and life abundant. Sing praise! Sing praise!
Ironically, during the Lenten season I found it difficult to get low and reflect with any emotional reaction to the suffering of Jesus, but during most of the weeks of Eastertide, the opposite is true. I’ve just been melancholy – pockets of joy and delight and laughter, yes, but underneath there’s been anxiety, foreboding. The sour taste that sometimes accompanies those moments you feel surrendered to beauty. Bittersweetness whispers, “You are happy, now, but just wait. Just wait. This will be taken from you.”
So what do you do when you’re happy during Lent and sad during Eastertide? You keep bringing yourself to the table to listen and be reminded of the fullness of Christ’s love, the totality of Christ’s presence with us during both seasons of sorrow and seasons of joy and seasons of mysterious gloom.
Even when you aren’t feeling it–whatever “it” might be–He is there, the Comforter, showing his scars and preparing a dinner over a beach bonfire. And there: joy, separate from the emotional experience of happiness or sadness. Fullness. Gratitude. Love.