We have now entered the Great Fifty Days of Eastertide. Eastertide is to be thought of as a continuous festive period in which the tone of the joy created at the Easter Vigil and Service of Light is sustained through the following seven weeks as the Church celebrates the gloriously risen Christ. The Easter Candle is lit and stands prominently in church for all the Eastertide services and white or gold vestments and decorations emphasise the joy and brightness of the season. Eastertide culminates in the feast of Pentecost. Our Sunday gospel readings throughout this period highlight the meaning of the Resurrection. The Sunday after Easter Day (the Second Sunday of Easter) always has as its Gospel reading the risen Lord’s appearance to Thomas. The theme is, of course, not “Doubting Thomas,” but Thomas’s outburst of praise in which Jesus is first recognized as God. The Third Sunday of Easter always gives an account of a resurrection appearance in which Jesus eats with his friends. Its significance for Christians lies in its eucharistic pattern. It was in the breaking of bread that Jesus was first recognized after his resurrection and it is in the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist that we encounter our risen Lord now.
The Fourth Sunday is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because its Gospel reading always reflects Jesus’ relationship to us in the image of the Shepherd: he who knows us each by name, who provides for our needs, who saves us from evil, and who guides us into new life.
The Fifth Sunday has readings in which, prior to the crucifixion, Jesus foretells the results of his death for the future life of his followers. In Year A his death will make him the way for us into eternal life: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
The Sixth Sunday’s Gospel reading has Jesus describing the results of our new life in him. Year A describes that life as a union as intimate as that between a vine and its branches: the branches draw their life from the vine.
On the following Thursday, we celebrate the event of Jesus’s ascension. This is not an event separate from the Resurrection, but one of the three parts of that one event: rising, ascending, giving the Spirit. Ascension Day (25th May) almost feels like a kind of staging-post as it also marks the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry. For this reason Ascension Day is closely connected with the theme of mission. Luke’s Gospel ends with Jesus's final words to his disciples, in which he commissions his disciples to continue his work. He promises to send them the gift of the Holy Spirit. The feast of Pentecost, sometimes also called ‘Great Sunday’ celebrates the account of the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples empowering them for mission (Acts 2:1-47). The Church is now to be the new body of Christ, filled with his life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost completes and crowns the Easter Festival.