By Andrew Seely Now that we’re a couple weeks away from Easter, here are some thoughts as I reflect on Easter and how it is expressed in congregations.
First off, Easter to me is a part of the Christian calendar that completely sums up the entirety of what it means to be a Christian and the deep sense of reverence I hold for Christ. I am madly in love with the notion that this particular day is set aside for us to come to the foot of the cross and deeply reflect what it means to live for a savior that sought death, died, and conquered death so that we may have life. My words lack as I try to describe the feelings that I hold for this day.
I would be completely content with the simplicity of being with others and just sitting at the foot of a large wooden cross. My Easter morning would consist of maybe a dozen friends a dimly lit room, comfortable, yet strangely quiet and eerie as if we stood before an empty tomb. We would start in silence and just sit, covered in prayer and meditation. Then we would turn to scripture and read the different accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. One, two, maybe even five times, letting each word and syllable sink in, with all its gravity, purpose, weight, and life. There would be impromptu singing and affirmations of creeds. We might have something tangible to hold on to, a piece of worn wood, or rusty nails, perhaps a piece of linen, or even just a loaf of bread and cup of wine. The sacraments would be an integral part of the time. Blessed and consecrated by all, instead of by one. Each served by the others. Truly a communal experience.
What I do not need in my Easter experience are the things, which seem to me make up such a large portion of American churches. No brass and choirs. No lilies lining the altar. No crowds of people. No schedules and flowcharts for a service. No “evangelistic” messages. No cards or roll sheets. No Easter eggs hunts or “passion plays”. No Hallelujah chorus. No pretending to be something that we are not. No Easter dresses or “Sunday best”.
I want space, I want freedom, I want awkwardness and awe. I want to come as I am. I want to be broken and ashamed, because I am not worthy to receive grace. I want to know that Christ accepts me no matter what. I want to be vulnerable at the foot of the cross. I want to be able to experience Christ’s resurrection; I do not want to observe it. I want to feel it, hear it, see it, taste it, and know it. I’ve heard the story before; I don’t need to be convinced. I believe.
And that goes for the other people sitting there too. We don’t need to “preach” at them. They call themselves “Christian” (for what it’s worth). They come Easter and Christmas because they think that’s what they are supposed to do. Why aren’t we showing them what the Christian life is truly about. Why do we need to “convince” them this (church) place is where they need to be. If we truly a caring community then let that be communicated sincerely. If we are passionate about the poor, let us communicate that. If we love the broken, then let’s show them we are broken too. If we love one another then that should be visible, not spoken. If we are truly in love with Christ I should be able to see it. I don’t think people are going to come back because they showed up for 1 of 2 Sundays in an entire year, and say to themselves “wow that was the best sermon I’ve ever heard, what have I been missing out on?” I think they see through all of the glitz and show. I think they continue to believe that being a Christian only requires them to think they are good and show up twice a year. If anything these are the people who need to hear that it is completely ok to come to church however you are. You need not look nice, act a certain way or say certain things. It’s ok to be broken, needy, lost, confused, questioning, and maybe even a little mad about “church”. They need to sense that there is nothing “special” going on because it is Easter. The only special thing is that we are intentionally focusing on the grace that was bestowed on us by Christ from the cross, on this one Sunday. These are the people who need to know that they are surrounded by a community of believers that will not let any need go unmet. These are the people who have been left by the wayside, who we are happy to see, but never call.
Then there are the people who don’t have faith. They especially don’t need to be “preached” at. I’m sure that’s the last thing they want to hear on Easter Sunday. These are the curious and questioning ones. These are the ones on the fence. The ones who want to know if what they read in the bible matches up with the way “Christians” live their lives. They want to experience love, compassion, hope and joy. They don’t need to be told that they are going to hell. They don’t need to hear apologetics and reason. They want to feel loved, totally, unconditionally. They need to experience the thing that the rest of the people know, namely the love of Jesus. It’s that simple. Really. We are lucky enough to get them in our doors, I hope they are the ones who are the most impacted by the radical message of Jesus, not preached but experienced. Hearing that Christ was risen was not enough for most of the disciples, they needed to see him. I think for the non-believer, they do not need to hear about Christ, they need to experience him, through the others sitting right next to them.
If this message that we hold on to is truly as great as we think it is, why, please tell me, do we need to dress it up with flowers and music and pleasantries and postcards and banners and whatever?
Yes Easter is more special than any other Sunday but every other Sunday should be a reflection of what we do on Easter Sunday.
I do not mean this to be a simple critique of American churches. This is someone who has been a Christian all his life and his spiritual needs are not being met. Maybe it’s because I have high expectations for what I hope Easter is about. Or maybe, more realistically I have very simple expectations for Easter. I want to meet Christ. I want to sit at the foot of the cross and look into the eyes of my savior.
Church of all places should be the place where I am allowed to do this. Especially on Easter Sunday. I think what I have said here may be seen as critical, but I hope you see that I am offering suggestions and reflections on what it means to truly be devoted to Christ and his message, and especially when it comes to Easter Sunday.