In the cosmic newness revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we find the promise and foretaste of our own transformation. We are privileged to be participants of the divine nature. Therefore the church celebrates the resurrection of Christ and of the whole creation as the center of a weekly cycle, every Lord’s day, and as the center of an annual cycle, every Easter.
Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 38
Easter preceded by Lent is the primary annual cycle of the calendar; secondary to it is Christmas preceded by Advent. This is true both theologically and historically. It is the resurrection that interprets the birth of Jesus. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus has no more claim upon us than Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anwar Sadat: He was simply one among many good leaders who managed to meet an unjust death.
This theological assertion is buttressed by historical facts: (1) What is presumably the oldest of the four Gospels pays no attention whatever to the birth of Jesus, beginning instead with the account of his baptism; and Paul makes only passing references to Jesus’ birth (as in Galatians 4:4 and Philippians 2:7). Only later did Matthew and Luke attach enough importance to the nativity to comment upon it extensively. (2) Even more significant: Although the resurrection was observed liturgically in the church from its very inception, the earliest recorded liturgical observance of Christmas Day falls well into the fourth century.
—Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 49-50
Laurence Stookey (Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 53) reminds us that our common Easter images of springtime, blooming flowers, eggs, etc. are totally Northern-Hemisphere in their orientation: south of the equator Easter falls in the autumn!
“Easter” is the period of eight Sundays [until Pentecost], comprising fifty days, often called as a unit “the Great Fifty Days.” For the explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.
Easter is not one closing day at the end of a lengthy period of Lent. Easter is one extended rejoicing in the resurrection that more than exceeds in length the Lenten disciplines. The first day of the season, Easter Day, is the opening of a protracted celebration, even as the Resurrection is itself the opening to a vast new reality.
“The First Sunday After Easter” implies Easier is over, having lasted only one day. But “the Second Sunday of Easter” (for the same date) indicates that Easter is an extended season, whose essential character is shared by all of its parts.
–-Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 54, 56-7
Many active Christians would say that Christmas is their chief festival. Closer to the mark, but still missing it, are those who would say that Easter Day is the principal feast of the church. What is amiss about such assessments? Simply this: No observance that occurs only once a year can connote the continuing work of God in daily life. Therefore the chief festival occurs weekly, and from it all else is derived, including those annual festivities that may be more visible and certainly are the more popular cultural occasions. . . . It has become a maxim of late that “every Sunday is a little Easter.’” But it would be more accurate to say that “every Easter is a great Sunday.”
—Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 44,54
It was not that the disciples of Jesus were more stupid than other human beings and therefore “just didn’t get it.” It was that neither they nor we can “get it” until we know how the story ends. The birth, ministry, and death of Jesus must be understood in light of the resurrection or the understanding will be greatly diminished. It is no accident that the observance of Christian time, the day and the week and the year, is grounded in and organized around the resurrection celebration.
—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 27-28
Consider then that “every Easter is a great Sunday,” a time, in effect, to reflect more deeply and with a greater degree of sustained concentration upon what the church affirms weekly about the work of God in our midst. Easter, in effect, puts Sunday under the magnifying glass.
—Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 55