As the Lenten fast ends, we can either applaud or chastise ourselves on how well we did with whatever we took on or gave up. Many of us have been trained to give Lent a lot of attention. For centuries the Christian family has been drawn into the via negativa dimension of Lent – engaging in the classic disciplines of prayer, fasting and self-denial.
That is all turned around at Easter. With the Resurrection, we enter into the season of via positiva. And strangely, we tend to drop whatever sort of discipline we put together for Lent and simply live into Easter. Many are exhausted from their Lenten project and are unwilling to take on anything more. Still others tend to think that the power of the Easter message obviates the need for intention or discipline.
Easter is pure gift, but it takes some discipline to live into that gift. First we need to receive the gift, which requires more than restoring some Alleluias into our lives, celebrating the return of baseball and basking in the blossoms of Spring. We are given fifty days – which, tellingly, is longer than Lent – to allow the Easter gift to be absorbed into the depth of our souls. Absorbed deeply enough so we can get beyond merely proclaiming the words of Easter to be more completely transformed by the new life that Easter brings.
The holy habits provide the foundational discipline for us to fully receive the abundance of the Easter blessing. The holy habits involve worship, prayer, study, and giving of self and treasure. Engaging the holy habits provides an Easter spiritual practice of via positiva – a practice which requires its own discipline. The Standing Commission on Stewardship and Development will present a resolution at General Convention commending the church to observe the holy habits during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. This will challenge us to develop a spiritual discipline for the Easter season that will enable us to become bearers of God’s abundance.
All of which is an exercise in Christian stewardship. In addition to the resolution on holy habits, the Standing Commission on Stewardship and Development will propose expectations for steward leaders in the Episcopal Church. The expectations begin with a faith claim: “Trusting in God’s abundance.” Easter is the dramatic manifestation of God’s abundance, and from it the Commission will challenge stewardship leaders to trust that abundance by:
Proclaiming a theology of abundance and spirituality of money
Teaching biblical and theological principles of stewardship
Engaging and critiquing the culture
Embracing the interconnected relationships between all persons and creation
We have a lot of work to do; life-giving and transforming work. With the Commission proposing – and General Convention consenting – the hope is to leverage the Easter gift to create a more disciplined and life-generating approach to Christian stewardship – which will be year-round, theologically and biblically grounded – and bathed in the celebration of via positiva.
--The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith is Bishop of the Diocese of Newark.