Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
A library of books has been written about the disciplines and practices associated with the penitential seasons of Advent and Christmas. I don’t think I have ever seen or heard of a book about the practical issues involved in keeping the great feasts of the Christian liturgical year. There is a profound irony in the general scheme of things: every exhortation is made for people to pray more, study more, give more in Lent and Advent and then, once the holidays begin everything stops and often the clergy have a break! The forty days from Christmas day until Candlemass and the forty days from Easter Day until Ascension Day mirror the penitential seasons of the year. It is important that these six-week periods are given equal, if different, attention as to how they are kept.
First, it important to keep the feast days and their attendant holidays in a good style. The central part that eating and drinking have in the celebrations are not anti-Christian. In fact, Christians of all people should enjoy their turkey and stuffing at Christmas and their roast lamb at Easter! The centrality of table fellowship in the life of the Church cannot be overestimated. There is a reminder here of the early church as
recounted in Acts; ‘they gathered in each other’s homes and shared their food with unaffected joy.’ Hospitality and feasting go together. These great festivals call for a party, for gathering people together and sharing good things.
This is not practical for some but other readers will have a great gift and capacity for hospitality, and the festivals are a time to give it a free rein. Easter and Christmas provide ample opportunities to bring the celebration of the Faith not only into the kitchen but into the rest of the home. An Easter Garden can mirror the Christmas Crib, the Christmas cards by Easter ones. In our home we always have an ‘Easter Tree’ dressed in lights with ceramic eggs for decoration!
There is, of course, a different spiritual mood, in the worship of the church and this should be relished with joy and thanksgiving. No one receives a gift at Christmas and then puts it away immediately and perhaps forgets all about it. But, this is what happens in the lives of so many Christians. The festival arrives with great celebration and then the possibilities it provides for deepening faith and fellowship are ignored. It is just as important to make a rule for regular Communion in the seasons of Easter and Christmas, as it is for Lent and Advent. In the same way there are some wonderful books and study guides for the penitential seasons and hardly anything readily available for Easter (Christmas, of course, has a rich poetic tradition). Ask around, have a good look in the library for something to carry your thoughts and prayers into Pentecost: it is the perfect time to read an inspirational biography or a book on prayer. There are several readable books with the theme of’Resurrection’. The most important discipline is to be thankful. Take the duty and joy of thanksgiving seriously. Bend your will to it with the same energy as you gave to your Lenten disciplines. Let the sound of’Alleluia’ in your heart give hopeful balance to the Kyries of Lent.