Easter, the celebration of Jesus' resurrection, has all the mystery of a chocolate covered cartoon in our culture. It is a mysterious thing, the idea that an immortal God found a way to die and that a man found a way to defeat death and that it was the same person in both instances. The details of the resurrection, the angels in the tomb, the discarded grave clothes, the resurrected Savior mistaken for a gardener, are too intriguing to be ignored. And yet, they get eclipsed in the popular imagination by jelly beans and Easter dresses.
Restoring a sense of wonder and mystery to your own celebration is possible, however.
1. Do Good Friday
Find a Good Friday service to attend. These services come in many shapes and sizes but all of them are typically somber and leave room for reflection. Making a big deal out of the death and crucifixion on Friday tends to give us a heightened appreciation for the wonder we enjoy on Sunday
2. Read the First Hand Accounts.
There were witnesses to the death and resurrection of the Jewish rabbi, Jesus Christ. They wrote down their accounts and passed them on to others who carefully preserved them for us. They have been corroborated by ancient historians like Tacitus and Josephus, and they are rich with detail. Read them for yourself. The account of a tax collector who followed Jesus. The account of a First Century Jew named Mark. The account of a physician. The account of a Jew named John who was very close to Jesus.
3. Spend the Saturday Before Easter in Silence
We live in a loud world. We ourselves are loud, and noise is the enemy of mystery. As much as possible, spend Saturday in complete silence, thinking about how silent the tomb must have been.
4. Plan Your Funeral
It's a good thing to do anyway and too few of us have. The Psalmist tells us to "number your days that you might gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12) Numbering your days is not only wise, but planning your funeral, thinking through what songs you'd like to have sung, and who you'd like to have speak, may be as close to sharing the tomb with Jesus as you can get.
5. Go to Church on Easter Morning
I know this probably seems like a self-serving post coming from a pastor, but it's true. One of the reasons that Jesus was pleased to return to the Father after his resurrection was that he was eager for the Father to send us the Holy Spirit in his place. And when we show up on Easter morning to worship the Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit makes his presence known we feel ourselves to be at the pulsating epicenter of a mystery that has defeated the grave and is redeeming our world. Those of us who've tasted that mystery are hooked.
I won't say it was a mistake, letting God get a hold of our hearts and imaginations. It wasn't a mistake, but neither was it a good plan for securing a comfortable future.
When we decided that our mission was going to be to make more and better disciples for Jesus, even if that meant moving out of our historic building in North Chittenden, the location of our worship service was probably the least significant change to take place. We would never be the same once we got a taste of the thrill of following Jesus out into deeper waters . . . and not drowning. We would never be the same after following faith into places that only providence could lead us out of. We would never be the same after seeing people come to faith in a building that physically represented our rejection of security and comfort.
And now, a little over three years after that big undertaking, just at the time when we are in danger of opting again for the comfortable and safe, God has presented us with another opportunity for making more and better disciples in a way that will stretch us and glorify Him.
Forest Dale Wesleyan Church, our sister church in Brandon, is facing a leadership transition with the resignation of their pastor. Our two boards have been meeting to discuss what it would look like for them to join us to make one church that would have two locations.
There are a lot of details that need to be worked out, and nothing is certain yet, but the sense of the leadership at both churches is that this is the frightening, overwhelming, risky, and totally awesome thing that God is calling us to.
Our brothers and sisters at Forest Dale will be taking a risk and making a sacrifice. They have been a solid and independent church for a long time and they could get some distance further down the road that they are on before running completely out of gas. In taking this step now for the sake of the lost people in their community they are giving up on the dreams they cherished of success on their own terms. Being willing to take that risk and make that sacrifice really says something about their heart for Jesus.
But we will be taking a risk and making a sacrifice as well. There will be a season of greater service as we lend our skills, efforts and physical presence to the work in Brandon. We run the risk, by dividing our energies, of sapping the momentum from the work that is being done in our own location. We will certainly be sacrificing our prospect of a comfortable season of ministry, a season in which we might have finally started to feel like we knew what we were doing.
The leadership of both churches has been counting the cost. We all know that we will be giving something up to see this happen. On the other hand, we see potential benefits, sure, for both churches. But, honestly, those benefits aren't likely enough or great enough to justify the risks.
Our Savior, however, is. He, having sacrificed everything for us when our condition was utterly hopeless, has the right to ask this of us. And we can be glad He has. Following Jesus into new and alarming ventures for the sake of making more and better disciples is about as bad for your comfort as it is good for your soul.
If you have any questions about the details of this venture please let us know. We're eager to do this transparently and inclusively.
Let me start with a confession. I listen to secular radio. Because I prefer the music.
In fact, my preferred radio station plays alternative and indie rock music, and some of it is lyrically offensive to me. But I enjoy the station and I appreciate being connected to and having insight into a world outside the church.
And so I was startled a week or so ago when I heard an advertisement on this secular radio station for a new church being launched this month.
Now for a real confession, one that's much harder for me to make: listening to the advertisement I was tense and unhappy until I realized that the church in question was going to be in a city about an hour and a half away from my own. I was only able to relax and regard this as a positive development when I knew that they were at so safe a distance that they would not be in "competition" with me for the souls in my parish. That's a confession that had better come with some true repentance, I know.
Now let me say something positive about this commercial. I love that it was on a secular radio station. Shame on churches that go "fishing" in the equivalent of the seafood department of the local grocery store. This is a church that has resolved to put on some waders and cast their lines in a wild river.
But I was disheartened when I heard the pleasant lady in the add assure the listeners that this church promised a "judgment free experience." My heart sank. I felt like the weary soldier who dared to hope for a turn in the tide of battle with the arrival of reinforcements, only to find those reinforcements promptly directing their fire at him.
I understand that there are churches that are hypercritical of each other and the lost. I get that. And I know that a lot of unbelievers are nervous that church attendance would make them feel bad and that can be a barrier for them to come to church and ultimately to come to Jesus.
But this is deeply and perniciously wrong for two reasons. First, this promise that they can offer you a judgment free experience promotes the false narrative that most people going to any other church would enjoy a judgment full experience. And that's just not true. In fact, most evangelical churches are trying too hard to avoid judgment, trying too hard to be cool and easygoing about everything, are too reluctant to mention sin. It would be like the new Chinese restaurant in town running adds promising that they would never sneak cat meat into their dishes.
But secondly, and more importantly, if a church could actually succeed in providing a judgment free experience they would also be providing a grace free experience. Such a church, at best, provides good news that is desperately upbeat and well produced, even if it's neither particularly good nor news.
Because grace is sweet and abundant and welcome to the degree that sin is felt to be real and oppressive and dangerous to our future.
I would no more go to a church promising a judgment free experience than visit the emergency room of a hospital promising a "diagnosis free experience."
Judgment must always be in the service of grace, of course, as a diagnosis must always be in the service of a remedy. But where judgment is in the service of grace we must not apologize for it or make any effort to circumvent it.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog