Cathedral News, April 23, 2017
Today is the Second Sunday of Easter. We all know that Easter is not just a day; it’s a season, called Eastertide. Eastertide lasts fifty days, known traditionally as the Great Fifty Days. Many liturgical scholars think that this fifty day interval, from the Feast of the Resurrection to the Feast of Pentecost, reflects an earlier calendar tradition that the Christian Church inherited from its Jewish roots. The Feast of Pentecost, after all, was a Jewish feast before it was ever the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and it was fifty days after Passover.
There are certain traditions associated with the Great Fifty Days. One of them is to burn the Paschal Candle at all services that are held in Eastertide, signifying the nearer presence of the Risen Christ during the time between his Resurrection and Ascension. The Paschal Candle is lit from the First Fire of Easter, kindled at the Easter Vigil. It is both the embodiment of the light of the Resurrection and the Light of Christ that shines into the darkness of the world.
Another tradition of Eastertide is to forego the Confession of Sin in the liturgy. While the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer allow the Confession to be omitted occasionally, at celebrations of the Eucharist in the Easter season it is left out regularly. Again, this is to acknowledge the closer presence of the Risen Christ and the grace of the Resurrection during these blessed weeks. It is not that we are free of sin over Eastertide. Hardly! Rather, we rejoice in the power of the Resurrection and live in the sure knowledge that God’s triumph in it removes the control that sin has over our lives.
A third practice during this season is to hear the exciting story of the spread of the Gospel in the days after the Apostles met the Risen Christ. This account is told in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and readings from this book of the Bible are the first lessons we hear at each Sunday Eucharist. Filled with the knowledge of Jesus’ power over death, the Apostles shared publicly the Good News of the ministry of Jesus, the power of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection. These lessons are not merely history, however stirring it might be. They are meant to stir in us the same zeal for sharing the incredible things that we have seen and heard, all flowing from the miracle of the Empty Tomb.
Alongside the account of the Apostles’ actions in the aftermath of the Resurrection, we also hear the stories of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. Our Lord met with his followers, spoke with them, ate meals with them, and spoke to them of what was to come after his departure from them. Today, we have the narrative of the appearance of Jesus to Thomas. It is unfortunate that Thomas has been tagged with the adjective “doubting.” Didn’t all of the Apostles doubt the witness of the women who saw the Empty Tomb and even met Jesus on that first Easter morning? We don’t speak of Doubting Andrew or Doubting Thaddeus, though, do we? Any one of them, if absent from this first visit of Jesus to the Upper Room, would have questioned the veracity of the story told by his friends.
And, let’s face it, we would have, too. Doubt is part of the fabric of a journey of faith. We all have had doubts, and we continue to have them from time to time. The point of this Gospel reading this morning is not that doubt is to be purged from our hearts and minds, but that it is to be overcome with faith borne of the personal experience of the Risen Christ. Yes, we all have doubts, and we also all have had moments of personal encounter with the power of the Resurrection. It is at those times that we can be steadfast in our faith, storing up the memory of them for the inevitable episodes of doubt which will come upon us. Remembering them, as we remember Jesus in the midst of the Eucharist, they are made real, and we are able to confess, “My Lord and my God.”