by Alastair Sterne
April 21, 2019
7 min read
We seem to get Lent as a church. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we practice Lent perfectly as a church (that’s simply not possible). But as a church, we tend to excel at the reflective practices. Lent is a time of laying things aside, to create more space for Christ in our lives — to develop practices that open us up to the present risen-ness of Jesus. We spend 40 days in the wilderness, searching our souls, failing, and resting in grace. It all leads up to Easter, where we celebrate our hearts out until they overflow with joy.
Yet it seems like we put more energy into Lent than Easter. We spend forty days preparing for Easter, and then celebrate Easter as if it’s a single day. But Easter isn’t just a day. Did you know that? In the Christian Calendar it is a season that lasts 50 days! In other words: the next 50 days should be celebrated as a single joyful feast. The celebration shouldn’t temper down, rather it’s only just begun.
We are heading into Eastertide (or Easter Season, or Easter Time or Paschaltide — all of them work!). This is a period of fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. It’s a time to remember that Jesus wasn’t in a rush to ascend, but that he spent time appearing to his disciples and preparing them for Pentecost. This is an extended time, then, to joyfully celebrate the resurrection. After all, the resurrection changes everything. St. Paul even writes, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Easter is a big deal. Consider what Pope John Paul II said,
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”
If Lent has intentional spiritual disciplines that accompany the season, why don’t we have practices that accompany the season of Easter? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself.
Christians are well known for their observance of Lent. The practices are a powerful witness for the world to see. In a city where indulgence and abundance are celebrated, we show how contentment and satisfaction can be found in sacrifice and simplicity. But what does the season of Easter say to the world? Yes, people mostly know that Easter Sunday is about the resurrection. People generally know that this is central to the Christian faith. This is important. But what about the remaining 49 days? It’s probably as fuzzy to everyone else as it is to us.
Cynicism is easy in our day and age, as is skepticism and doubt. It’s almost our default. But Eastertide is about joy. Not any type of joy, but a particular joy: joy in the resurrection. This is why I want to issue The 50 Days of Joy Challenge to our community, and other churches that participate in the Christian Calendar. Over Eastertide, consider what practices you can implement into your life to cultivate more joy. Our cities and the world needs to see our joy as much as they need to see our fasting and sacrifice. In a world abundant with hopelessness and purposelessness, the surprising, unexpected joy of the resurrection is the antidote.
A brief primer for cultivating joy …
If you’re sort of ideas, here’s a few suggestions:
Abide with Jesus
Make John 15:1-17 your meditation for the next 50 days. It will change your life, I promise. Jesus wants us to abide in him—he wants us to abide in his love. It’s simpler than it sounds. We keep his commandments. The first command is to believe in him (John 6:29, 1 John 3:23), and the second is to love each other (John 15:12). Believe in him, love others with his love. Got it? Jesus taught us to abide in his love so that “my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Take 15 minutes every morning to abide with Jesus, to pray, to seek him, to ask him how to love those around you—and his promise is joy … plentiful joy.
Rejoice and focus on what is good
Time and time again Scripture instructs us to rejoice. Every day, take time to tell God about how awesome He is. He is faithful, good, wise, our provider, merciful, just, and on and on you can go. Focus on what is good. As Paul writes, “whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, if there is any excellence, worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Cultivate Gratitude and Thanksgiving
Just as Paul writes “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” he always says “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for your life” (1 Thess 5:16-18). If you want to be in the smack-dab in the centre of God’s will for your life, start with thanksgiving. Start a routine of thanking God for what he gave you in the day. You can jot it down in a journal, or online (I have been using this Five Year Diary, and love the gift of looking back on what I was thankful for on this day in the past). You can also begin to share what you’re thankful for on social media, or with your friends. Don’t overlook the benefits of this simple practice. Researchers have demonstrated that consistent practices of gratitude actually increase your happiness by roughly 25%!
Ask for the joy of seeing people coming to know Jesus
Jesus says “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). If you’ve never experienced the joy of helping someone begin a relationship with Jesus, ask God to give you this opportunity—and be courageous and faith when he answers this prayer (and he will!). This sort of joy is deep and long lasting, and it’s the closest experience we have on this side of eternity to the joy of heaven.
Every day, or every other day, or a few times a week: go out of your way to encourage someone. Share how they’ve made a positive impact on you, express your gratitude for them, call out what is good in them and where you see God moving in their lives. You might do this in person, or through a text, or a phone call—but the gift of encouraging others results not just in your own joy but theirs too.
Take the pressure off, simply ask for joy
If you’re more like me, where you see the cup as half empty and joy doesn’t come ‘naturally,’ you can ask for God to grant you joy. David prayed “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Perhaps this can be your anchoring prayer during this festive season.
The 50 Days of Joy Challenge
These are just some suggestions. Last year our friend Sylvia took this challenge to heart and shared about her experience. Her story will encourage you! I hope you see that the goal in this season is is not to generally become happier people. We want to become more rooted in the joy God offers us in the gospel, the joy of the resurrection; and we that joy to flow out of us into others. The 50 Days of Joy Challenge has already started. It’s not about how well we can perform, it’s not about creating a fake facade of joy, it’s about rejoicing in the joy of the resurrection and asking Jesus to fill us with his Spirit of joy.
May we become a people known for our joy during Eastertide.