April 10, 2017
This year the spring intensive of the Kairos Project falls very near the heart of the Christian calendar. Students from across America and around the globe will come to our Sioux Falls campus for a high-impact learning experience we are titling “The Centered Church.” Through various presentations and interactive sessions students will consider the importance of operating out of the right center and being “fully alive” by embracing their unique roles in God’s mission. This week, as we lead into Easter and then the intensive week, we explore the topic of being centered.
Have you noticed how nearly every show, movie, or novel these days has the same basic progression? The story builds up slowly. Toward the end the narrative reaches a climax, then resolves very quickly. The high point almost always happens near the end.
The Bible sometimes tells stories this way, but not always. Pretty regularly the high point is smack dab in the center. Furthermore, very often there is symmetry between things leading up to the center-point and the things moving away from it. That literary form is known as chiasm. Some scholars say that’s how the Joseph story in Genesis is set up. Others point to a chiastic structure in some of Jesus’ parables, or in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians or to Philemon. The middle is the crescendo in each.
A similar symmetry is at play in the Christian calendar. The first liturgical season established in the Church was Easter. Easter Sunday was unquestionably the epicenter. But since the resurrected Jesus appeared for forty days, why not observe Eastertide for forty days (or fifty, just to bring it up to Pentecost)?
Soon after the early Christians clearly felt a need to prepare for Easter, so they appointed a Lenten season leading up to it. Irenaeus and Tertullian reported Christians fasting for a day or two in anticipation of the great Easter feast. Only in the fourth century, explains Nicholas V. Russo, do we find certain evidence that Lent had developed into a forty day period. The forty day duration made all sorts of sense, since Jesus had gone into the desert for that time period (to say nothing of all the other forty-day periods mentioned in the Old Testament). Some details had to be worked out on how to count the forty days, but by the early middle ages the season of Lent – a time of penitence and preparation – had been hammered out.
But back to the point: the season of Lent and the season of Easter are basically symmetrical, centered around Easter Sunday. One season leads toward Jesus’ resurrection and the other away from it. How exactly we Christians observe the first forty days or the second forty days isn’t terribly important. What matters most is whether or not we keep our eye on the center. That middle point – He is risen! – is the rock that anchors our seasons. The truest center, of course, will always be the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. How appropriate that this year’s Kairos Project intensive falls so close to Easter!