Happy Easter. Wait a minute, hasn’t Easter passed? Actually no, we are still in the Easter season which is known as Eastertide. Eastertide is a term I recently came across. Growing up in a Pentecostal home and attending Pentecostal churches, I did not know the fifty-day period between Easter Day and Pentecost had a name and in some Christian circles it was a huge event. It is the most important event on the church calendar but because of the church tradition I am familiar with, I have not had an opportunity to fully commemorate it. The difference here is apparent between churches with more formal liturgies and the less formal, the so called “high church” and “low church” liturgical models respectively.
Though I consider myself post-charismatic I still value the inclusion and improvisation that is characteristic of charismatic liturgy, which creates the expectant atmosphere for the manifestation of the Spirit. However, there are somethings we miss out on by not having a more definite liturgy. I get the hesitation with embracing high church models because they can be so strict that it becomes a cold ritual. However, it does not need to be stale. Ironically, the same can happen with charismatic liturgy where you simply go through the motions; believe me, I know. I have argued elsewhere about the essential importance of liturgy and ritual so I do not need to tread old ground except extend the same arguments to events in the liturgical calendar.
The high point of the liturgical calendar is Easter but a recent dissatisfying Easter experience was with the Pentecostal church I attend, was what got me thinking about this in the first place. As you would expect from a typical Pentecostal church there are no set in stone details. What is always done however are “conventions.” They are usually large 3 or 4 day gatherings of all members of the denomination in that particular locale. To me the programme lacked focus and direction as it was flattened out into essentially just an extended service. For the ordinary church member there was no build up, everything was squeezed into few days and afterwards no reflection on it. It did not have special significance, probably because there were no unique symbols or praxis for it.
These are of course my personal observations and it is totally possible that the problem is with me. Yet in spite of my general apathy towards church-going, I did try to invest myself emotionally in the proceedings but I honestly couldn’t. Beyond my own feelings about this year’s Easter convention, not all my observations were unique to me. Perhaps, in our Pentecostal zeal to avoid lifeless ritualism we have failed to take ritual as seriously as we ought to. As order-seeking creatures, ritual is simply part of being human. When it comes to this issue, one thing I constantly stress is that charismatics need to remember liturgy is not a mouldy leftover from Orthodox churches but originates from the New Testament and the quintessentially Jewish roots of our faith. Ritual observances are identity markers of people groups and the people of God have historically been no different. So despite the myriad denominations, things like the Eucharist and baptism are nearly universal even though there is still a lot of debate about the things that are commonly held.
Now Pentecostalism does have a good theological core even though it does have different emphases from other Christian traditions. So it is not the case that Pentecostals and Charismatics completely lack a so-called sacramental theology but what they view as sacred is what differs. We are not as far off as some might think after all everyone does do liturgy in one way or another. Yet I am not saying Charismatics should do the same as the Orthodox but I do think there are some things we could learn. The advantage that Charismatics have is our tradition is more readily adaptable and able to better contextualise than other traditions. We have the framework that allows us to quickly learn and grow. In fact, adopting a more charismatic stance has helped Ghanaian Orthodox churches gain more appeal, especially to young people, and continue to be relevant. Of course this flexibility can be an Achilles’ heel and become crippled by cultural syncretism but in this case we are learning from our own brothers and sisters who do things a little (or sometimes a lot) differently from us. I have personally witnessed my own Pentecostal church cautiously adapt some less “radical” elements of Orthodox liturgy so I know it is possible. I have been particularly impressed by how the Anglican Church and Greek Orthodox Church do Easter. I am still learning about them but I do know the Anglicans the celebrate the entire Eastertide which is really wonderful. Now in the Greek Orthodox Church the resurrection is right at the centre of their theology which makes Eastertide particularly significant for them. An unrushed period of staying in the various moves of resurrection events is something that we desperately need
Beyond observing other traditions, how we mark Easter must first and foremost be informed by scripture. Of course we need to get our biblical theology of the events surround the climactic crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth right. Now I do not mean “right” in the sense of absolute conformity to a particular denomination’s doctrinal position. However, we do have to understand what it means to us as believers being the linchpin of our father. Not a static knowledge assuming we have “figured it out” but a transformational knowing that comes from it being the well spring of our Christian faith, which we need to constantly be bathed in and refreshed by.
As for the precise logistics of how we do Pashca it I cannot make any assertions. However, I do believe the table of events must correspond to what we find in the gospel record. The climax of Jesus’ earthly mission surrounded two important feasts, most obviously Passover stretching all the way to Pentecost. As such I propose a 56-day period beginning with Palm Sunday and ending on Pentecost Sunday. We therefore have a working template in Jewish antecedents which we can creatively but faithful modify to centre on the Messiah Jesus. To use a slightly anachronistic terms we can already see in the New Testament the “Christianization” of these Jewish rituals. For example, the Last Supper is a modified seder meal instituted by Jesus himself and from that we have evidence of emerging Easter traditions in the early apostolic church like in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 for example.
Of all the events we can put on our church calendar, nothing compares to the significance of Easter, not even Christmas, because it is the only one that commemorates what is absolutely central to biblical faith. There being an obvious scriptural precedent to it, we need to seriously reconsider our approach to Easter, giving it more gravitas and liturgical weight. It is a regular way for the entire church to journey with the Messiah (to use orthodox language) through his passion, resurrection, ascension culminating in the outpouring of the Spirit. Through it we rehearse the Jesus story as the fulfilment of Israel’s story and reaffirm our place in that narrative as Jesus people. Now as a charismatic I want to within my own denominational setting be able to fully enjoy Easter. Personally, I do not want to miss out on all the fun that brothers and sisters are having in other traditions in celebrating our risen Lord.