Advent is four Sundays, Lent 40 days not counting the six Sundays while Easter lasts for 50 days and culminates on the fiftieth day. Some refer to Pentecost as “the Week of Weeks.” Easter is more than just an extended celebration of the resurrection. The initial purpose of the 50-day Easter season was to continue the faith formation of new Christians. Pentecost was simply Greek for fiftieth day. As baptized Christians we take time during these 50 days to consider the meaning of membership in Christ’s body, the church. We look at events in the church’s life, the sacraments, accounts of resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. The early church called this period of the process mystagogia. Each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we say these words: “We proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” To help bring the focus of worship to these things we read from Acts each Sunday where the lectionary focuses on what it means to believe in life after death. It is customary for the Paschal candle to burn at all services of the Easter season.
We don’t seem to be very good at observing the 50 days of Easter. We pull out all the stops on the organ (or at least Geoffrey used most of them I think) in worship on Easter Sunday, but then we seem to immediately go back to business as usual. Easter is the most significant holiday of the Christian year. Without Christ’s resurrection there is no Christian faith. If Jesus has not been raised, there are no Christian celebrations to be had. What would it look like if we continued our Lenten Disciplines in a modified form all the way through Easter? How would our personal faith grow if we truly expected a life changing event during Lent and then took the spiritual growth we experienced through our practice of the spiritual disciplines and cultivated it, nurtured it so it could flourish during the 50 days of Easter? Is not this process of going deeper the mystagogia?
Every year during Lent I fast in some form or another. Over the years I have stopped drinking iced tea and found I feel better when I weigh a little less. Each year when Easter rolls around I am genuinely excited and, with the exception of iced tea, I go right back to my old habits. The spiritual realizations last a little longer but usually by the next Lent I am surprised by how much I have forgotten. During Lent, I realize how many of the things I long for are really habits and I can get along fine without them. I realize how much God provides for me that I take for granted and belittle by obsessively working to accumulate more while being dissatisfied with the gifts I have been granted. During Lent I remember how powerful the demands of the physical world are and yet with God’s help I have the ability to define myself in the world as a citizen of God’s kingdom rather than letting the world define me. These are just a few of the things that I have learned that I would like to keep as a more prominent part of my life. Maybe this year fasting taught me that Lent is more than preparation for Easter. It is an invitation to meaningful change.
For a portion of John Wesley’s ministry, he advocated fasting on both Wednesday and Friday each week as a regular spiritual discipline. It’s fairly well known that Wesley would not ordain anyone to the Methodist ministry who was unwilling to fast those days. Wesley usually began a Friday fast at sundown on Thursday. This was in continuity with Jewish and early Christian tradition, which both marked the beginning of the day at sundown, not midnight. Wesley typically ended his fast at 3:00 p.m. on Friday. I think it is worth me praying about this. If you would like more information about a Wesleyan style fast check out http://www.methodistprayer.org/wesleyfast.
See you Sunday,