Column for May, 2017
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Each year, we greet each other enthusiastically with that traditional reminder of Easter. We begin in our worship for the Great Festival of Easter on Easter Sunday. This year, it was during the children’s time that I taught the call-and-response. When I said the first phrase, “Christ is risen!” many of the children just looked at me blankly. I was heartened, though, when I heard many of you in the congregation respond enthusiastically, “Christ is risen, indeed!” I said it again at the end of the sermon, and by the end of the service, when I said it as part of the benediction, everyone in the room seemed to get it.
The greeting is traditional in Eastern Orthodox churches. Often in those traditions, it is spoken in Greek; you can see it in the Greek letters above, although I couldn’t figure out how to get the right accent marks to work on my computer. It is called the Paschal greeting; the word “Paschal” just means “Easter.” There is even an article on Wikipedia which lists how it is printed (and, if you can pronounce the letters, how it is spoken!) in scores of other languages. That article notes that in Russian traditions, you follow the Paschal greeting with three kisses on alternating cheeks. We Presbyterians don’t tend to be that familiar with each other, so we don’t usually practice that part of the tradition.
The greeting is not just exchanged for the one day, though, because Easter lasts for an entire season. The season of Easter will carry us all the way through May this year. It goes for a total of seven weeks, beginning with Easter Sunday and ending the week before Pentecost. I usually try to integrate the Paschal greeting into the Call to Worship, the sermon, or some other part of the service throughout the whole season. I will be honest: it gets a little tough by the end of the season. By then, it feels like we are so far away from Easter Sunday that the whole rest of the world has moved on. The fact is that the whole rest of the world has moved on. By the end of May, the stores have long ago put away their chocolate bunnies, pastel baskets, and those Cadbury eggs filled with gooey, rich, sugary filling that is supposed to look like the egg yolks and whites. They have replaced Easter with the beach-themed decorations for summer, or even their red, white, and blue tchotchkes out for the Fourth of July. But not the church. In the church, the good news of Easter is at the center of our faith, so we keep the white and gold cloths on the pulpit and communion table through the whole season. It is the best news the world has ever heard, so we take our time with it: Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!
This year, I am going to make an effort to keep the Paschal greeting in worship all the way through the seven Sundays of Easter, no matter how far it seems like we are stretching the season. I will do that because we have some wonderful celebrations coming up to help us understand the meaning of Easter for our lives. May will be a full month in our worship life! You will see more information about what is going on in the rest of this newsletter, but a couple of highlights:
- Sunday, May 7, we will have our Graduation Sunday, the Church Picnic, and Communion
- Sunday, May 14, we will recognize all of the women who provide, protect, nurture, and otherwise “mother” in our church, whether they have children or not
- Sunday, May 21, we will have a special presentation from Thornwell about Building Families
- Sunday, May 28, we will celebrate Ascension Sunday (if you don’t know what that is, see Acts 1:1-11)
All of these special days will help us understand the meaning of that phrase: Christ is risen! They will help us to celebrate and feel festive. They will help us to know what it means to be a part of the community of people who come together around our faith in Christ’s resurrection. They will help us to perceive God’s call to us, too, to love and to serve our neighbors with the same love God has shown us.
I hope you will join us for all of these special celebrations! And mostly, I hope you will join us in celebrating the best news the world has ever heard: Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!