A couple days ago we looked at the traditional calendar’s treatment of this season; now let’s look at how it has developed through the liturgical reforms of the 20th century into the lectionary of the 2019 BCP that we have today.
The same general contour still exists: the initial emphasis is on the resurrection and Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, then comes “Good Shepherd Sunday”, and the remaining Sundays deal with teachings about the Holy Spirit, transitioning toward Ascension and Pentecost. The modern calendar, however, has one extra Sunday of post-resurrection appearance and one less Sunday of Holy Spirit teaching… so in a way modern Eastertide is more “eastery” if you like.
And, to repeat the warning from last time, the modern naming system is “The #th Sunday of Easter” starting with Easter Day, and the traditional system is “The #th Sunday after Easter”, starting with the modern Easter II. So, here goes…
Easter Vigil & Day
There are now four sets of readings available for the course of Easter Day. The Easter Vigil has up to twelve Old Testament readings, followed by the baptismal discourse in Romans 6 and Matthew 28:1-10. The Easter Sunrise service is essentially the same, though allows only a choice of one of the vigil’s OT readings. The Principle Eucharist has the shortened traditional Epistle (Colossians 3:1-4) with a reading from Acts 10 as an alternative, and the resurrection Gospel is from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, depending upon the year. Because Matthew’s resurrection narrative is used at the Vigil and Sunrise service, John’s narrative is also permitted in Year A so Matthew’s gospel doesn’t have to get re-used so many times. There is then an Easter Evening option featuring the Road to Emmaus story from Luke 24 (which is also covered during Easter Week).
The 2nd Sunday of Easter
As in the traditional calendar, the Sunday after Easter Day deals with the disciples gathered, being visited by Jesus, and receiving the Holy Spirit. It is lengthened, however, to include the following week’s meal when Thomas is present, satisfies his unbelief, and makes his confession of faith. The Epistle readings now diverge for the rest of the season: outlining 1 Peter in Year A, 1 John in Year B, and Revelation in Year C. And, although the Old Testament lessons continue their usual function of matching with the Gospel lesson, there is also an alternative track for reading from the book of Acts. Both of these patterns conclude with the Sunday after the Ascension.
The 3rd Sunday of Easter
Here a further post-resurrection appearance is dealt with: Luke 24’s road to Emmaus (in Year A), Luke 24’s gathering of the eleven (presumably minus Thomas) (Year B), or John 21’s miraculous catch of fish (Year C).
The 4th Sunday of Easter
A week late, compared to the traditional pattern, this is the modern calendar’s Good Shepherd Sunday. The traditional Gospel was from John 10, and so all three years of the modern calendar include different excerpts from the same chapter, catching different parts of Jesus’ Good Shepherd Discourse. The traditional Epistle (from 1 Peter 2) is retained in Year A, when that book is the recurring epistle for the season, but in Years B & C the progressive readings from 1 John and Revelation manage to chime in the Good Shepherd theme just a little.
The 5th & 6th Sundays of Easter
Traditionally the last three Sundays picked up non-sequential excerpts from John 16. Now that there’s a three-year cycle of lessons, even more excerpts from the Upper Room Discourse can be covered. The 5th Sunday now has John 14:1-14 (Year A) or 14:15-21 (Year B) or 13:31-35 (Year C); the 6th Sunday now has 15:1-11 (Year A) or 15:9-17 (Year B) or 14:21-29 (Year C).
In both the old and new traditions, this progression of Gospel readings continues into the next mini-season, Ascensiontide.
So, although the general content of the modern Easter season is similar to the traditional history behind it, the arrangement is rather different. The modern lectionary favors sequential (or at least in-order) Bible reading and has largely abandoned the topical approach to dealing with Eastertide. One of the major indicators that the underlying logic and purpose has shifted, despite keeping many of the readings within the season, is the fact that the Collects of the Day are mostly changed from the old books to the new.