Having run up a few decades, most of them in pastoral ministry, I have a few Easters to look back on. I have experienced many repetitions of this high season of the Christian story, beginning with participation in my own Restorationist tradition which, in my childhood and youth, did not highlight the seasons to the extent of more liturgical churches. Every weekly occasion we gathered at the Lord’s Supper was a re-enactment of the events that led to Good Friday. Every Lord’s Day was a celebration of the resurrection. Inevitably, the annual marking of the Easter season was simply a recognition of what took place every Sunday.
As my ecumenical awareness grew I began to appreciate the nuances and richness of the particular way the more historic traditions observed Easter. Some of this has now rubbed off on my own tribe following much cross-pollenation as a number of our leaders and influencers helped us shift from cerebral assertiveness to a more reflective embrace of the affective experience of the great Christian story.
The ancient Triduum (Three Days) begins with a focus on the events of the eve of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Jesus gathered his disciples in the upper room of a Jerusalem house to celebrate the annual Passover feast, a Hebrew rite that marked the liberation of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. At this commemoration, Jesus first washed the feet of his disciples, demonstrating his servant leadership. Knowing he was about to take the place of the traditional Passover sacrificial lamb, he used the specially prepared bread and wine of the feast to spell out the meaning of the laying down of his life. It was not only a means of preparing his disciples about what immanently lay ahead (he had warned them many times) but a way for them to appropriate his life and sacrifice into their being and way of life. Every time they gathered to eat and drink they were to “Remember him!”
To re-enact this drama reflectively and contemplatively as the opening of the Three Days of Easter (remembering that the new day begins at sunset) invites fresh opportunities for insight and understanding at intuitive and instinctive levels.
I have participated in full-blown dramatised Passover re-enactments highlighting how each Jewish symbol retells the Christian story. These have left me somewhat uneasy – they are exposed to the dangers of historical revisionism and cultural appropriation, leading to the murky waters of successionism. On the other hand, there have been occasions of simply hearing the text read with gentle music and soft candlelight, movement, the sharing of bread and wine, and retirement to a Gethsemane garden setting for further prayer and reflection.
Today Christians regularly celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion or the Eucharist. It is a celebration of Christ’s laying down of his life for the brokenness of the world in order that, through him, the world might be made whole. The small piece of bread and the gentle sip from the cup are a divine banquet. We participate in the fullness of the new life that Christ has wrought.
And it all begins on that first night of Passover all those years ago in Jerusalem.