The following is the introduction to Resurrecting Easter: Meditations for the Great 50 Days by Kate Moorehead
He was an eccentric ninety-year-old man who loved to sunbathe in his backyard. He was also one of the most brilliant biologists who ever lived, winner of the Kyoto prize in biology and a professor at Yale. His name was Evelyn Hutchinson.
Every Sunday, without fail, Professor Hutchinson would drag his old, decrepit body down the aisle at church to receive holy communion. His back was bent from osteoporosis, but he managed to get down on his knees at that rail and hold out his hand for the mystery of the bread and wine.
I was a student at Yale at the time, and Professor Hutchinson heard that I was going to seminary. After church one Sunday, he asked me a question.
“Are you going to preach about the Word of God?” I nodded, wondering where he was going with this. He craned his neck to straighten himself up enough to look me directly in the eye.
“I’ll tell you, Kate,” he said. “If I had to preach, do you know what I would do? I think I would have to stand up in the pulpit and do this. . .” Professor Hutchinson raised his shriveled arms to the sky and shrugged.
For centuries, churches all over the world have observed the season of Lent. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus walked out into the desert for forty days and fasted and prayed. So we too fast, pray and take some special discipline during Lent. And then, when the forty days are over, we celebrate the resurrection and have a big party on Easter.
But there is a significant problem with this practice. You see, the early Christians didn’t believe that Easter was just one day. Easter was an entire season of feasting, a season that lasted for fifty days. It was supposed to trump Lent in length and intensity. We were supposed to celebrate the resurrection for that long.
But today, we observe Lent. We do our disciplines. Then we celebrate Easter on Sunday. We hunt for chocolate eggs and dress up. But by Monday morning, life goes back to normal.
Why don’t we observe the Great Fifty Days? I don’t think it’s because we don’t like parties, or we refuse to celebrate. I think we can’t celebrate for that long because we have forgotten how to sustain joy. We simply don’t know how.
Jesus did not appear just once after he died. He appeared over and over again, in different ways, over a period of forty days. On the fortieth day, his body was physically lifted up into heaven in front of the disciples. And on the fiftieth day, Jesus gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire us so that we could continue to do God’s work in the world.
The whole thing is so mind-boggling, so otherworldly, that it does make me want to climb up in the pulpit and just shrug my shoulders. Resurrection is the heart and soul of Christianity. It is the reason we exist, the reason why a peasant who walked and taught along the shore of Galilee for three years and died on a cross might still be remembered today. Because he came back to us. He lives still.
The early Christians called the event of the resurrection the Mysterium Tremendum. The great mystery. It cannot be rationalized or broken down into sound bites. Our minds will never understand what happened. Even the greatest thinkers like Professor Hutchinson know that it is too much for our small brains to master. It can only be glimpsed through the stories that the disciples and others told about how Jesus returned and what he said to them.