Easter

In the life of the church, Easter seems to come on suddenly. We are deep into Lent and our Holy Week observations and suddenly it is Easter and all the somberness is lifted, the lights are turned up bright, the decorations are put out and Easter comes on, full of Alleluias and resurrection acclimations. The transition of our sanctuary from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is dramatic. The drape comes off of the cross. The crown of thorns is lowered. The purple banners come down. White cloths are put on the surfaces, Easter banners are put up, shiny candlesticks appear and the easter lilies are arranged. The volunteers were in a good mood yesterday as they prepared the room.

Strangely, even though we will celebrate Easter in our worship services for seven weeks, the Easter mood at the church will go away as quickly as it appeared. Easter decorations will be replaced with other decorations. Plans for other spring events soon will dominate the minds of most of the church’s members and we will return to life as usual very quickly. It was strange yesterday to notice that in addition to putting up the Easter decorations in the sanctuary, one of the volunteers was putting away some of the Easter decorations in the parlor. I think our parlor operates on a different calendar than other parts of the church. Easter appeared in the parlor right after Valentine’s Day (which was Ash Wednesday this year). Now we’ve moved on to a generic spring feeling in that room.

In real life, however, resurrection takes a long time to be evident. As we read through the stories of resurrection appearances in the Gospels, we discover that there is a common theme of people not understanding what they are experiencing. Even Jesus’ closest disciples, with whom he has shared teachings about resurrection, fail to recognize the resurrected Christ. When I travel the journey of grief with those who have lost loved ones, the sense of resurrection comes on very slowly. Although we read of people who can draw the time of mourning to a quick close, it seems to be a vey difficult thing to do. It isn’t at all uncommon for grief to be spread out over one or two years or more. Even after the passage of a few years, the recognition of the the on-going presence of the loved on is slow to manifest itself for many.

We put an awful lot of pressure on the day of Easter Sunday. We know that church attendance swells. We know that we will see people in church that we don’t know or whom we rarely see. Some congregations in our town add extra services to accommodate the crowds, something they haven’t done since Christmas Eve. Other congregations rent auditoriums or large halls for their Easter Sunday worship. Then, in the next week, they take down all of the decorations, return to their usual schedules and places of meeting and live goes on as usual.

Easter, however, is not about life going on as usual.

I have commented to my congregation that I think that the reason that Lent is six weeks long and Easter is seven weeks long is that grief is easier to understand than resurrection. We allow more time to come to the realization that death is not the end and that life is triumphant. Furthermore, in our tradition, we worship on Sunday - the day after the traditional Jewish sabbath - because we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ every week of the year, not just in one season.

I will enjoy the special pageantry of this day. I’m looking forward to celebrating communion with our lay minister in all of our fancy robes and Easter stoles. I’m anticipating the glorious Easter Anthem our choir has prepared. I’m looking forward to the powerful organ postlude of Widor’s Toccata. I will revel in the larger crowd for worship than normal. I’ll forget counting calories and eat an extra hot cross bun before diving into an Easter dinner. I’ll join others in taking pictures of our decorated sanctuary. I’m into Easter Sunday as much as anyone else in the church. After Lent and Holy Week I almost feel like I deserve a day of unabashed celebration.

But there is also a part of me that knows that this is just one more day in a long journey. The gift of resurrection is a challenge to absorb. Looking at this world with all of its troubles and studying the history of our current century make it hard to come to the conclusion that love and life are triumphing. There is so much death. There are so many innocent victims. There is an apparent triumph of lies and falsehood. If you just look at the surface, it is hard to live as an Easter people in our moment of history. In a sense we are more comfortable with Lent and guilt and grief than we are with Easter and open celebration. Maybe that is why you hear more of the fugues and minor keys of Bach than the symphonies of romantic composers in our church. We have become accustomed to looking for the dark side in our music and in our worship.

While we would not deny that there is evil in this world and that pain and suffering are a part of every human life, we are, however, a people of the resurrection. Our job is to tell the good news to others and share the joy of resurrection with each person we meet.

I for one, however, am not very good at turning on Easter suddenly. I need to warm to the season and to the news. Like Mary in the garden with Jesus, it takes me a while to recognize what is going on. I am well aware that there is an expectation that today’s sermon will be extraordinary. After all it is the big occasion. I’ve known for a long time that what I say today will be heard by more people than what I’ve been saying during Lent.

We will see how it goes. Chances are pretty good that it will take a few weeks for my best Easter sermon to come out. After all I do have seven weeks. Stay tuned.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!