The Great FIFTY Days of Easter

Paschal candle

On one of the Facebook groups comprising church musicians, someone recently asked:

What are you playing tomorrow? Still on Easter or moving on?

There were many responses to this query, most of which advised that Easter was indeed fifty days long and that she should sing and play Easter hymns. It turned out that she was new to a liturgical church and didn’t realize what many of us take for granted—that Easter is a season, not just a day.

This brings up another topic—what are you doing to celebrate the Great Fifty Days of Easter? It seems that churches get their busiest during Lent, doing Bible studies, speakers and lunch, extra weekday services, etc.

Isn’t Lent a time during which we should pare down our activities, and instead, ramp up during Easter?

Isn’t Easter the time to study the Bible and how the resurrection of Jesus has an impact on our lives?

Shouldn’t we gather for potluck suppers, hymn sings, outreach, and other community events to celebrate the most important part of the liturgical year?

Well, maybe your church doesn’t have the resources to pull together a concert series for Easter; possibly the month of May becomes too busy for families as the end of school nears; perhaps the leadership of your church is simply worn out after Holy Week.

What can we do liturgically and musically to celebrate the season in a meaningful way?

Here are some ideas:

  • Omit the confession during the Easter season. Did you know that the Council of Nicaea forbade kneeling during the Great Fifty Days?!?
  • How about singing a setting of the Pascha Nostrum (Christ our Passover) during the Song of Praise? Wonder, Love, and Praise has a wonderful setting of this canticle to the tune Sine Nomine.
  • How about introducing a new Easter hymn? Most of us have a set group of hymns that are used on Easter Day—Jesus Christ is risen today; Welcome, happy morning; Hail thee, festival day; Come, ye faithful, raise the strain; He is risen. All of these are great choices! However, there are 39 hymns in the Easter section of The Hymnal 1982! Here are a few that could be introduced into your parish’s canon of known hymnody:
    • Hymn 174: At the Lamb’s high feast. The tune, Salzburg, is probably sung at your church on the Sundays after the Epiphany.
    • Hymn 176/177: Over the chaos of the empty waters. This text with its baptismal imagery reminds us of Easter Vigil baptisms.
    • Hymn 188/189: Love’s redeeming work is done. With a strong text by Charles Wesley, there are two fine, and very different, tunes for this hymn.
    • Hymn 190: Lift your voice rejoicing, Mary. This text brings us the Gospel story of Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb with a beautiful tune by Tom Foster.
    • Hymn 213: Come away to the skies. Another Charles Wesley text, this hymn is set to a joyful folk tune.
    • One caveat—if you are introducing these new hymns, sing them several times during the season. One and done will not endear you to the congregation. Teach the hymn before the service starts so that the congregation is ready for it. Give them some information about the text or tune.

There are three more Sundays in the Easter season this year. Let’s remind our congregations that it is still Easter. Ready, set, GO!

Ellen Johnston is director of the Center for Liturgy and Music at Virginia Theological Seminary.