Yesterday, Easter Monday, was a day spent mostly away from church work in an attempt to recover from the Holy Week blitz. My family and I all went to the grocery store together—a fairly unusual occurrence—and on our way out we ran into a parishioner—a very common occurrence. Unprompted, our daughter exclaimed to the somewhat-familiar face, “Happy Easter!” “Happy Easter!” was the reply, and he continued, “Way to keep it alive!” That encounter was, for me, a succinct expression of Easter.
Easter isn’t a day; it’s a season. It’s fifty days of celebration, and in mid-June it will still be liturgically appropriate to wish someone “Happy Easter!” in the grocery story, though it would probably garner some queer looks. That fact, and today’s lessons (Acts 2:36-41 & John 20:11-18) have me thinking about why Easter is a 7-week-plus-one-day season.
Partly, it’s because Jesus hung out with his friends for 40 days (until Ascension Day) and then Pentecost came on the “fiftieth day,” hence the name. Also, it’s partly because it’s a jolly good thing—the resurrection—and, like Christmas, we enjoy celebrating it for longer than a measly day. But I also think there’s more to it than that. I think, as Mary Magdalene shows us, it takes us 50 days (at least) to figure out that the Lord is indeed risen.
Mary Magdalene peers into the empty tomb and weeps. She sees two angels there who ask, “Why are you weeping?” and yet she still weeps. She even gets a tap on the shoulder by the risen Jesus, whom she mistakes for the gardener, and yet she still weeps. One doesn’t get much closer to the resurrection miracle than that. Why is it so hard for MM to figure this out?
I think it’s because the resurrection is more than just an empty tomb. It’s more than Jesus coming back from the dead. It’s the cosmic victory of God over every evil, and that’s not the sort of thing one grasps without pondering it for a while—maybe for a lifetime. We need all the time we can get to figure out that the Lord is risen and what that means for us.
If we really understood what Easter means, would we worry about death? Would we be sorrowful? Would we be anxious? Would we continue to live in fear? Easter is a once-a-year opportunity to spend 50 days trying to figure out what the resurrection really means. And if you don’t think it takes at least 50 days, then you’re missing the point.