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The Power of Liturgy: Journeying Toward A Deeper Understanding of Easter Celebration

By Chelsea Hurlburt

I grew up in a church where “liturgy” was a bad word. “Liturgy” meant dead ritual, and for those from my non-denominational church tradition, liturgical practice implied faithless, routinized worship. Yet over the years as a Christian, I’ve grown to appreciate liturgy as a platform on which to build a more solid faith. This is especially true at Easter, where the events of the liturgical calendar leading up to Resurrection Sunday help me more fully comprehend Christ’s salvific work on the cross.

Bear with me – I realize that liturgy is an odd topic for an Easter blog! Yet I have felt that the incredible truths and emotions we try to capture and experience on Easter are too much for a single day. Humanly speaking, there’s too much to try to take in. The ugly reality of Christ on the cross evokes feelings of shame, betrayal, abandonment, fear, suffering, death – all turning to astonishment, wonder, relief, hope and joy at the truth of His resurrection on the third day! Without genuinely feeling the first emotions, we cannot fully experience the latter. Our exuberance on Easter day is tied to our grief and longing in the days leading up to it.

In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren says “In the liturgical year there is never celebration without preparation. First we wait, we mourn, we ache, we repent. We aren’t ready to celebrate until we acknowledge, over time, through ritual and worship, that we and this world are not yet right and whole.”[i]

Our celebration of Easter requires a season of preparation. Ash Wednesday delineates the start of this season, initiating us into the Lenten period of fasting and soulful meditation, a time set apart from the rest of the year for us to reexamine our lives before Christ and reset our priorities. Palm Sunday serves as a point of recommitment calling us to acknowledge and submit to Christ as King and welcome him with wholehearted celebration. Maundy Thursday, a day when many Christians gather to wash one another’s feet, opens our eyes anew to the love and humility of Christ and asks us whether we are willing to demonstrate the same. Up until this point in our season of preparation, there has been a cleansing, recommitment, and renewal. We feel our souls refreshed, we feel excitement at the celebration to come!

Until the rude brutality of the cross shatters our illusion: “Good” Friday is an ugly reminder that all our fasting and spiritual performance can never erase the depravity of our sin. Atonement is required, and we are left horrified and bewildered at Christ’s provision of it via the cross. We are confronted with a decision – a demand – on our very souls: If we want life we must face death. Resurrection cannot happen without dying. There is no moving forward to the celebration and feasting of Easter without first deciding if we are willing to die to sin and selfishness. What will we choose?

Holy Saturday often feels like an odd day sandwiched between Good Friday and Easter. It’s a day when many of us get wrapped up in cooking and cleaning, preparing our homes for family and guests coming to celebrate. It’s a day that I only recently began to think of in a spiritual sense. Holy Saturday is the day we wait. It’s a day of liminality, or “in-between-ness” when we are caught in a space of not yet knowing what will happen. We recall what it must have been like for the disciples that day – their fear and confusion at the crucifixion of their beloved rabbi. As Christians we know the hope of Easter and we spend Holy Saturday in hopeful expectation of the day to come. Yet for the disciples that day, all hope seemed lost.

Then dawn breaks on Sunday morning. The tomb is empty. Jesus’ followers are astonished, overjoyed! The meaning of everything Jesus had told them starts to become clear. Christ had offered Himself as the needed sacrifice for our relationship with God to be reconciled. No longer were we abandoned and alone, but Christ had come to restore us and bring us into fellowship with Him. “Death has been swallowed up in victory![ii] Christ has overcome all; through His death “we too may live a new life.”[iii] Rejoice and celebrate! Christ is risen!

As we enter Easter weekend, I hope this blog has encouraged you to carve out time for your own soulful liturgical preparation. Ponder how the disciples must have felt at the events of each day and let yourself feel the same. Don’t skip over feelings of shame, suffering, or abandonment to get to celebration. Skipping ahead only impoverishes our faith. Neglecting difficult truths and emotions only leaves us struggling when we face them at other times in life. The way we pass through the events leading up to Resurrection Sunday serves as a template for how we can choose to move through tough seasons of life. This is especially important here in Lebanon where the events of the last few months and years have felt overwhelming at times. The liturgical events of Easter weekend provide a path for us to find hope. When at times we face grief or confusion like the disciples did that wretched Friday night, we can look ahead and know that joy is coming soon. When we find ourselves in times of waiting and uncertainty like Jesus’ followers did that Saturday, we again look ahead assured of Christ’s return. Resurrection Sunday is not just a day, it is the climactic victory of a story we are still living. It is the beacon of hope on which we set our sights. For we know that “weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning![iv]

 

Chelsea Hurlburt lives in Lebanon and serves on the faculty of ABTS. She is currently finishing her PhD in Intercultural Studies, with a focus on women in mission.

[i] pp. 106-107

[ii] 1 Corinthians 15:54

[iii] Romans 6:4

[iv] Psalm 30:5

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