With the lyrics of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” still ringing in our ears we enter into the season of Eastertide. The joyous proclamation of the hymn is not “Christ the Lord was risen two-thousand years ago;” we sing in the present tense, “Christ is risen today!” Charles Wesley captures in his lyrics the mystery that we often gloss over when we participate in worship: time is a blurry thing in Christian worship. While the past events of scripture are not repeated literally; by the Spirit, time collapses as we engage the Story of God—hence, the lyrics “Christ is risen today.”
The trans-temporality of Christian worship is important to embrace as we enter into these fifty days of Eastertide. Often the weeks after Easter can seem like a letdown. With our energies expended on Easter sunrise services and the other events of the day, we trudge into the following Sundays frequently missing the richness of the post-Easter Day season. The Story does not end with Easter morning and the empty tomb. We have broiled fish to eat and sheep to feed. We need to hear Christ’s voice say “peace be with you” as we’re caught off-guard when he unexpectedly shows up in our midst. Like the disciples, we need to encounter the risen Christ as we continue on the journey. Here are a few reasons why the season of Eastertide is so important.
Verifying the Resurrection
Confusion leads to disbelief, doubt is shattered by encounter, and in the presence of the risen Lord, fear dissolves into unbounded joy. We struggle with many of the same concerns that the disciples struggled with in the weeks following Easter. Inevitably, CNN or the History Channel will run their one hour documentaries giving alternative possibilities to bodily resurrection. If Eastertide does anything, it forces us into the narrative where we encounter a very physically risen Lord—one who eats with us and invites us to touch his wounds. In worship we also are given the opportunity to encounter the same risen Lord in our midst.
Manifesting the Already-But-Not-Yetness of the Kingdom
For forty days the disciples lived in swirling awe of the risen Christ. One can’t blame them for taking some time before finally asking in Acts 1, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus’ answer takes them by surprise and it does us too: it’s not for us to know the times set by the Father. What the season of Eastertide does allow us to know for certain is that our current age is temporary. The resurrection validates all that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God: a kingdom that has already been established, but has not yet fully come. It also shows us our destiny in Christ, the first fruits of this new creation.
Pointing Us to the End of the Story
At the end of the forty days following the resurrection the disciples stand gazing up into heaven and are immediately given the promise that the ascended Christ will return one day. Ten days later they receive a down payment on that promise at Pentecost. During Eastertide we also are (re)oriented to the end of God’s story of salvation. We renew our hope in the sure and certain return of a King who is making all things new.
Sending Us on Mission
Similarly, Eastertide is also a season where we are called to mission. “Feed my sheep,” “Go and make disciples of all nations,” are words of commission for the followers of the risen Lord. We cannot stand around gazing at the heavens because we have encountered the risen One and know how the Story ends. These fifty days simultaneously remind us of the good news we proclaim as well as our deep need to be infused with the Spirit’s power for this mission.
Our Hearts Burning Within Us
As someone who plans and leads worship, I find my biblical imagination is captivated during this season of Eastertide for all the reasons noted above. And then there’s Emmaus. It’s no wonder why so many have read this text as model for worship—Jesus opens up the scriptures and manifests himself in the breaking of the bread. Regardless of your exegesis on this passage, the text stirs a desire to feel our own hearts burning within us as we encounter the Lord in the Story. The same Lord who met the disciples on the road to Emmaus longs to meet us during this season of Eastertide. As we seek him, he opens his Word to us, meets us in the breaking of the Bread, and stirs our hearts with his holy love in a way that makes it impossible to contain the news of his resurrection.