Opening up: A Reflection on Bright Week

One of the wonderful symbols of Easter (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) is that this celebration of new life happens towards the start of Spring. And I’m definitely feeling that this year. There’s nothing quite like opening up the windows to a gentle Spring breeze, airing everything out after the long and stuffy Winter. This is a perfect analogy, I think, for how this first week of the Easter season feels. It’s a week of lightness, airiness, and, yes, brightness, filled with warm breezes offering new life and new possibilities. (I’m sorry to make Easter sound like a commercial for laundry detergent — but there’s a reason why those commercials use those images!)

I am, of course, far from the first person to make this connection between Easter and loosening boundaries and opening up to God and the world. It’s even encoded into the Easter liturgies of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. First, during the Easter Vigil, the faithful process around the church building; when they reach the doors, the priest bangs on the doors, shouting:

Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. (Psalm 24.7-10)

The doors are then opened and the community enters, with the space now lit up and decorated for the celebration. The object lesson is clear: Easter is God opening wide the doors of salvation, for all to enter.

This same sentiment is also expressed in that tradition in the liturgical space itself. In Orthodox church architecture, the altar is separated from where the community is gathered by a screen decorated with icons. While it seems this tradition began simply as a form of crowd control rather than separation, it eventually took on symbolic meaning as the liturgy became more richly symbolic. For our purposes today, what’s important about this is that during the week after Easter, which they give the appropriately enough, “Bright Week,” rather than being opened and closed throughout the liturgies, the doors of this screen are kept open the whole week, once again symbolizing the ‘wide-openness’ of the Kingdom of God that Easter reveals.

I can’t help but think of these beautiful symbols this Easter week, as I sit here with my curtains gently moving in the breeze, which carries the sound of birdsong and the sweet smell of fresh green. Somehow, no matter what is happening in the world, it feels today like anything is possible, everything is wide open, if we just open up and let life in.

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