Sunday, April 3, 2016

Low Sunday

It's been a relatively quiet week, church-wise. After the build-up of Lent, the constant quiet activity of Holy Week, and the energy and exuberance of Easter, the church may still be celebrating Easter but the people are more than ready for a bit of rest. There are still Bible studies to do, sermons to write, the church to be tidied up, flowers arranged, brass polished, and the like, but for the most part, those who have invested so much of themselves and their time in the lead-up to Easter are relaxing just a bit. It's sort of like a mini-vacation, a bit of Sabbath after the biggest Sunday of the whole church year.

The First Sunday after Easter has often been called by a number of different names. The most common is the unofficial designation of Low Sunday. You'll never see it listed that way in the newsletter or bulletin, but behind the scenes, that is how it is called.

On Easter Sunday, every pew and chair is full, the choir is in full voice, there are "bells and smells" (ringing of the Sanctus bell and thuribles full of incense marking processional, recessional, blessing the Gospel book and the whole altar in churches where such "high" touches are not usually done), the church is abloom and garlanded with decorative flowers and greens, crucifixes and crosses wear translucent white coverings, and the altar and clergy are garbed in white or gold to celebrate the occasion.

By the following Sunday, though, things have changed. Most of the decoration is gone, the choir may have taken the day off, the bulletins are a bit shorter and less ornate, and there are a lot of empty pews (the chairs having been taken off to wherever extra chairs are kept until the next big occasion). Families who spent Easter together have returned to their homes, and hostesses who have had a full house take the chance to sit down, find the last bit of fake grass from Easter baskets, and plan another meal of leftover ham or roast.

In the early church, new prospective members (catechumen) had to undergo a lengthy period of instruction before being admitted for baptism and inclusion in the Eucharist. They would attend the Liturgy of the Word but be excused before the Liturgy of the Table began. When their time of study ended, they put on white garments and were baptized at the Easter Vigil. They could then join the community for the Eucharist. At the end of the octave (Easter and the seven days that succeeded it), they exchanged their white robes for regular clothing at church, marking the end of their being set apart and the beginning of their life as full Christians.

One of the other names for Low Sunday is Quasimodo Sunday. Those familiar with the Hunchback of Notre Dame will recognize the name of the maimed character who found abandoned on the steps of Notre Dame on the first Sunday after Easter. In fact, the Introit (opening antiphon sung or spoken at the beginning of the service) for the day in the Roman Missal was Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). The reference to the catechumen is unmistakable.

However it is called, the First Sunday After Easter is a continuation of the Easter season, 50 days   that lead to the feast of Pentecost. During the Easter season, we celebrate Jesus's appearance to the disciples, Doubting Thomas being shown the wounds in Jesus's hands and side, the road to Emmaus, and the Ascension. Alleluia comes back into our vocabulary after a 40-day absence for Lent. Many churches omit the confession of sin during the season. In short, the Easter season has a lot going on.

But we have to stop a minute. We are taught that every Sunday is a little Easter, no matter at what time in the church year it occurs. People forget that quite often during Lent but a quick count the number of days in Lent comes out to 46--if the Sundays are counted in. Subtract those six Sundays and there are 40 days left. When it comes to Easter season, every Sunday after Easter itself is a little Easter, and should be celebrated as such, if not with the full panoply we reserve for the actual Easter Day.

Whether or not we call it Low Sunday, the First Sunday after Easter, or Quasimodo Sunday, it all amounts to the same thing--a celebration of Jesus's resurrection and the gathering of the community to share in the Eucharist. The newly baptized participate as well as those who were baptized decades ago or during some other church season.

So fill the pews, shout the Alleluias, and thank God for the blessings of Easter all year. Amen.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul  on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 2, 2016.

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