As we look back at another Easter, Sarah Travis invites us to consider whether we commemorate the events of Holy Week and Easter a little too hastily.

I have a great fondness for the liturgical calendar. It is God’s grand story in miniature. Between Advent and the Reign of Christ, Jesus’ life flashes before our eyes, and we encounter the stories of God’s people as recorded in scripture. By following the church year, we become participants in a larger story that begins in expectation and winds its way back around to longing. In between we encounter Pentecost and Easter, Ordinary Time and Lent. We shape our lives around the demands of the liturgical seasons – variously feasting, lamenting, celebrating, grieving. If we devote ourselves to the seasons, we are invited on a journey which unfolds in a predictable, annual way. A journey which takes us on a sort of liturgical adventure in which we encounter God in an orderly chronological fashion, to be repeated next year. I commend the Revised Common Lectionary to my students because I value the unfolding of the church year in scripture. I think it is good for us to preach and teach and worship in a Christological pattern, so that we are enabled to ‘see Jesus’  – to reflect on his life and ministry and make every effort to pattern our own lives on his. It is a cycle that reminds of God’s continual pull toward new life, new hope. 

I am no longer a congregational minister but more at home in the rhythms of the academic calendar. Yet my partner is a church musician – the narrative of the church year unfolds in my home as naturally as the secular and academic calendars do. This year I was particularly aware of the intersection of Holy Week with end of term, and the realization that as a College we would be able to celebrate Easter this year, because it fell before the final chapel service of the academic year! As the Director of Chapel at my institution, I set to planning a special offering for the Tuesday after Easter – after a long winter it felt time to breathe some fresh air into the place. In cooperation with the musician we arranged for flute and trumpet, along with a vocal soloist. Because of the coming together of the Academic Calendar and the liturgical calendar we were all ready to celebrate the resurrection of our saviour. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

During Holy Week, however, I began to wonder about the speed at which we are expected to absorb and come to terms with the events on the liturgical calendar. While it is timed to mimic the actual events in Jesus’ life – the daily flow of Holy Week, the 40 days in the wilderness, the 50 days of Pentecost, it can be a lot for us to take in. We tend to explore holy week in a ‘live action’ way – imagining ourselves to be disciples and putting ourselves in their shoes – trudging from Gethsemane to Calvary to the empty tomb to the upper room. Those few days from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday must have felt like weeks to those women and men who followed Christ. Instead, they went from utter despair and bereavement to absolute Joy in a very short time. The liturgical calendar moves fast, and it moves whether or not we are ready to move with it. The liturgical calendar asks us to move from Thursday to Sunday without giving us time to process what has happened to Jesus, and to us. Is there a more trauma-informed way to look at the Liturgical Calendar, a means that allows us to journey through the meaningful cycle but also allows us enough space to deal with the trauma and triggers? What if we gave ourselves and our churches permission to slow down, or revisit different seasons as they resonate with congregational life?

Despite my initial excitement for celebrating Easter with my academic institution this year, I felt that Easter came too quickly. It seems this year that we are not ready to leave behind the confusion and utter betrayal of Holy Saturday. Children in Europe and Africa, Haiti and Palestine are dying daily, some of them starving. I find myself looking at the liturgical calendar suspiciously, wondering why it is rushing me into a period of joyful celebration when I feel anything but celebratory. The liturgical year can at times seem like a moving sidewalk that is proceeding too quickly, insistent that we move from one mood to the next alongside our Christian neighbours. Perhaps the liturgical calendar invites only a gentle commitment from us – allowing us to move backwards and forwards when we need more time and space to understand a particular aspect of holy time. I find myself being very glad to hear the Easter Alleluia’s but also needing to return to Holy Saturday. I want to know what God the Father was doing on that day. The day where Jesus’ people didn’t know that good news was still possible. A day of silence, of weeping, of wondering. We need Easter – there is no hope without it. But like a securely attached child, I can wander away from the Easter event returning to Holy Saturday until I have satisfied the deep questions of my soul and feel ready to greet my risen Lord. 

Photo by Alicia Quan on Unsplash

Part of the mystery and majesty of Easter is that it comes whether we are ready or not. The Son is Risen – today and yesterday and tomorrow. It seems to me, however, that the Easter season should leave liturgical space for Holy Saturday moments. Surely even those who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus firsthand must have revisited those days and hours when the world broke open and nothing but death was certain. They did not go from traumatized to joyful in an instant. The change took time. Whether it be a prayer, a piece of music, a liturgical act or a scripture reading, our liturgies can remind us that there is space for the utter breathlessness of sheer grief, even in the middle of Easter. Just as the Christmas season occurs beneath the shadow of the cross, so Easter still bears a sense of desolation that is not quite swept away by the first rays of the rising sun. Disability theologian Miriam Spies writes about the concept of ‘crip time’ – slowing down to make space for our own needs: 

“I love Holy Week.  I love the intentionality of the actions, the way we are invited to live in crip time, time that bends to meet the needs of bodies and minds, particularly the body and mind of Jesus.  The speed slows us down and beckons us to dwell in the moments.  The speed of a donkey wandering through the crowds, of Love being poured out on Jesus’ feet in perfume and hair, of bread broken, wine poured, gifts shared around a table, of Jesus bending to wash and dry his beloved disciples’ feet, of a lingering kiss on the cheek, of prayer in the garden, of Love proclaiming forgiveness, of Christ being crucified, of Jesus’ body being laid in the tomb. The speed of waiting, waiting, waiting.  This Holy Week invites us to dwell, to slow to the speed of Jesus’ particular body and mind, to stay with him on this pilgrimage.  So, friends, let us dwell in this crip holy time, as God bends time so that in the days to come we might proclaim, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.””

Sarah Travis is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and holds a Doctor of Theology in Preaching from Knox College, University of Toronto. She is Associate Professor of Practice of Ministry & Faith Formation at Knox College, Toronto. Sarah is the author of ‘Decolonizing Preaching: The Pulpit as Postcolonial Space, Metamorphosis: Preaching after Christendom, and Unspeakable: Preaching and Trauma Informed Theology’ (Cascade Books). 

As with all our guest posts, views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CSBV.

An Invitation to a Slower Easter
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