This past Sunday (Easter 2 in the Western Christian calendar; 15 April 2012 in the Gregorian calendar), was, as one of the priests at our church noted, the traditional “Low Attendance Sunday.”
After all of the pageantry and emotion of Holy Week, with its daily services, palm frond waving, darkness, candles, cross veneration, late night holy vigils, foot washing, Psalm chanting, weeping, and rejoicing, it’s understandable that the average Christian is exhausted by the end of it. Most of the clergy I know drop off the grid on Easter Monday, some of them probably thinking about how their parents wanted them to become bankers or engineers.
Yet with Holy Week and then the first week of Eastertide behind us, we found ourselves at Easter 2. And it was time for church. Again. And so a few of us trooped in and did the work of the people once again, and dutifully celebrated the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist—because it was Sunday again. In our parish, we had one of the lowest attendances on record. Presumably, most of our folks were still exhausted from Easter. Some, of course, were traveling or had family obligations. And the flu has been going ‘round. The fact that we had heavy rain here in Fort Worth all morning long on Sunday probably didn’t help matters. Our service was, Eastertide notwithstanding, a rather subdued affair.
I don’t want to gainsay anyone’s choice to take the needed time for rest and restoration. As a layperson, I know what it’s like to work all week and then try to work up the energy for Sunday (I don’t know how you courageous bi-vocational clergy do it). And that’s to say nothing of Holy Week, which is a call for extraordinary commitment (and possibly committal afterwards). My wife and I have done our share of begging off on Sunday mornings, choosing sleep or brunch over church attendance simply because the exhaustion of the week/month/year was too much. Sometimes, one just needs deep rest.
Moreover, we Episcopalians don’t have Holy Days of Obligation, not like the Roman church. We heed Jesus’ declaration, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” and thus Sundays for us are days for celebrating, not obligating. Church, though not easy, shouldn’t be an impossible burden.
Having acknowledged the need for rest, and without laying guilt at the door of anyone who stayed home last Sunday, I still found our low attendance ironic, if understandable. It was ironic because it was Easter 2. Easter Sunday, of course, is the climax of the church year, but it is by no means the dénouement. The whole point of the entire rest of the church year is that we Christians live post-Easter. We are a resurrected people.
Easter 2, therefore, is the continuation of our new life gloriously begun Easter Sunday. After the jaw-dropping, world-altering news of Easter, Easter 2 is a coming into our inheritance (though we don’t receive all of it at once). Every Sunday then is a celebration, a wild party (no matter what worship style your church or denomination uses) that just can’t stop rejoicing over the hysterically wonderful, outlandish fact that we have been granted brand new lives.
That’s easy to forget when we do this church thing every Sunday, week in and week out. Sometimes, we get weary, and life gets in the way of our rejoicing, reminding us that we have yet to receive the rest of our inheritance; the final resurrection is yet to come. Sometimes, we find ourselves taking the Sacrament into our hands and mouths about as consciously as we go through the McDonald’s drive-through. I myself, as I noted in my previous post, have not been feeling all that celebratory lately. And with the murky traditions, occasional grandstanding, awful sinfulness, and just plain human error that are to be found in any church on any given Sunday, we don’t always feel the awesome power of the Spirit moving in us, reminding us to rejoice at our good fortune.
Nevertheless, the fact remains. Our feelings come and go, but Christ is risen; he is risen indeed! And if we die with him, we shall also live him. If we endure; we shall reign with him. Let’s celebrate together this Sunday! There will be some rather decent wine. Recognized or not, the Spirit will be there with us. It will be Easter 3.