I am relatively new to the church year and worshipping in a congregation guided by the Revised Common Lectionary.
As a Baptist of Southern Baptist heritage, I was largely unaware that there were seasons through which the church progressed each year.
I was only aware of Advent because the Catholic church in my town placed massive oil candles in the church yard during that time of year.
Then Terry York presented the tradition of the church year and the cycle of the lectionary to me in his Christian worship class at Truett Seminary.
Since that time, I’ve been increasingly convinced that such a rhythm of life and connection to the worldwide Christian communion is well within the scope of my Baptist principles.
My congregation recently joined many others in journeying into the wilderness of Lent.
During these six Sundays, we took great pains to concentrate on our need for God’s sustenance and provision.
We called out our sins and meditated on our sinfulness, concluding that we are in need of a Savior, for “who can rescue us from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
We journeyed slowly toward the cross knowing that the tomb would be empty and the Lord would at last defeat death and open for us the path to eternal life.
We ignored that as best we could, though, so as to know our need and our thirst for that Lord and for his life.
We seemed to be surrounded by death, by prayers of renewal and by songs of lament.
Then Easter came and we sang old Baptist hymns and Handel’s “Messiah.” We read John’s account of the resurrection, and we prayed amid the chirping of birds and the palpable new life of spring.
But then Easter ended.
I went home and scattered plastic eggs for my toddler to find, ate lamb with my Greek family members and napped.
But after all of that, I had to pack my bag and prepare for another week of reality.
This time there was no Lenten restriction to help me hunger through the day; all was resurrected joy and consummation.
The church year calls this time “Eastertide” – the seven Sundays after resurrection day that form a happy antithesis to the Lenten season.
Whereas Lent is denial and despondency, Eastertide is joy and astonishment and the heavy exhale of a people who no longer fear death.
The church year makes Easter the hinge, the high-water-mark of the story of Jesus and of all Christian life.
We have the tough, long slough to the cross before the downhill road back to Emmaus from the empty tomb.
The lectionary texts for Eastertide are the other side of the Easter story, too. Suddenly we find bold, testifying disciples where cowards had recently stood.
We read of the Hebrew Scriptures in light of a new revelation of God through Jesus Christ.
We see the church being born after preaching that this same miracle-working, Kingdom-proclaiming Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Easter did in fact end. The event that we celebrated last Sunday was one single moment in history.
But the consequences, the fallout from that miraculous day take more than one sermon or Bible study to work out.
Eastertide is where we begin to understand our new, re-created, forgiven identities in Christ.
Here is where we begin to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
I think of this season of Eastertide as a return from exile.
In the first chapters of Ezra, we read of the return of the Babylonian captives to Jerusalem.
Can you imagine the joy that spread throughout the community when word came down from Cyrus that they could return home? What a celebration!
They were showered with gifts, money and good things with which to re-establish God’s Temple and their society. What a critical, hinge moment for the exiles.
There was a great celebration once the exiles returned with special offerings, festivals and sacrifices.
Soon, though, people noticed that there were no foundations upon which to rebuild the Temple or their homes.
The celebration had to be modulated and actual work had to begin. If the exiles were to be reunited truly with their God, they would need to understand and address the consequences, the fallout of their return.
This is the season for Christians to address the cosmic, eternal, corporate and personal meaning of Easter.
This is the season to not only confess sin, but to deal with it.
This is the season to no longer point out the rubble of former temples, but to clear the land and build upon the one foundation (see 1 Corinthians 3).
Brock Ratcliff is a minister at Madison Chapel in Madison, Miss. He also teaches mathematics and computer science at Clinton Alternative School in Clinton, Miss. A longer version of this column appeared on his blog, Fides Quaerens Intellectum, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter: @RevBrock.