Celebrating the Seven Sundays of Easter: One Through Three

Introduction: Most evangelical church traditions celebrate Easter on Easter Sunday. They do not recognize Easter as a season, but only as a single day. According to the Christian Year, Easter Day begins the Easter Season, which continues through Pentecost Sunday. These Sundays are not the Sundays after Easter, but the Sundays of Easter (Adam 87). Easter Season is “an extension of the Lord’s Day celebration” (Proctor-Smith 377). Commenting on this connection, Proctor-Smith says, “Its theme, therefore, is the theme of every Lord’s Day: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his life-giving presence in the community through the power of the Spirit” (377). This article briefly examines this celebration.

The lectionary readings from the Revised Common Lectionary are based on a three year cycle. The service generally follows the Gospel text from John and leads us through Jesus’ resurrection and post-resurrection appearances. One interesting note concerning the lectionary text for the Easter Season, the Old Testament readings are replaced with readings from the book of Acts (Proctor-Smith 377). Concerning its significance, Proctor-Smith says that by “replacing the Old Testament reading with readings from Acts, the lectionary attests that this period is the time of the church” (377). Below, I seek to identify the basic theme for each Sunday.

Easter Sunday: In the all three years, the Gospel readings center on Mary Magdalene. She discovers the empty tomb. John 20:1-18 is used in Years A and C, while Mark 16:1-8 is used in Year B. The story of Mary Magdalene is told with slight variations. Because of the status of women in the first century Jewish culture, it comes as a great surprise that a woman would be the first witness to the resurrection. At this time, women were not even allowed to testify in a court of law (France 408)! Why would you tell this if it were not true? True equality comes through the Gospel. Christ is Risen! This sets the mood for the Sundays of Easter. We celebrate His resurrection and continuing work through his church.

Second Sunday of Easter: In all three years, the Gospel text is John 20:19-31. On the Sunday evening that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appears to his disciples less Thomas (John 20:19-23), but appeared to them again a week later with Thomas present (John 20:24-31). Robert Webber sees the focus of this Sunday to be the church (149-151), while Nocent focuses on the issue of faith (176). Including the various readings from Acts (2:14a, 22-32; 4:32-35; 5:27-32) and the Epistles, one can see how faith in the resurrected Christ forms the church. Faith in the resurrected Christ provides the basis for and emboldens the witness of the church. Do we believe?

Third Sunday of Easter: The Gospel readings vary from Year A to Year C (Luke 24:13-35; 24:35-48; John 21:1-19). Yet, each reading presents an appearance of the resurrected Christ to his disciples. In these appearances, a meal with Jesus provided a resurrection perspective. Focusing on the Emmaus Road passage (Luke 24:13-35), Webber sees worship as the central theme of this Sunday (151-153). Using the Eucharistic formula, Jesus serves these disciples, who recognize him in the Eucharistic celebration. While this is a potential theme for Year A, it seems that the broader one may be found in Jesus appearances, teaching, and reinstating Peter. His appearance confirms his resurrection and his teaching helps the disciples to comprehend its meaning. As it is explicit with Peter, it is implicit in the other text: we need to understand the meaning of the resurrection and to teach others as well. What are the implications of the resurrection? Who can we tell?

The fourth through the seventh Sundays of Easter are discussed in Part 2 of this article.

Sources:
Adam, Adolf. The Liturgical Year: Its History and Its Meaning after the Reform of the Liturgy (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1981).

France, R. T. The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985). The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Leon Morris, Editor.

Nocent, Adrien. The Liturgical Year: the Easter Season (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1977). The Liturgical Year. Volume 3. Matthew J. O’Connell, Translator.

Proctor-Smith, Marjorie. “How to Celebrate the Fifty Days” in The Services of the Christian Year (Nashville: Star Song, 1994). The Complete Library of Christian Worship. Volume 5. Robert E. Webber, Editor.

Webber, Robert. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004).

White, James F. Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980).