God often uses unexpected situations to teach us needed truths.
As the world continues to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all adjusting daily to make sense of it all, protect our neighbors, and grasp the new normal. Until it changes again in another 5 minutes.
As a pastor, I want to provide care, direction, insight, and stability to our church family at all times, but especially in times like these. The wide restrictions has caused all of us to scramble how to do that.
As Easter Sunday approaches, President Trump had originally hoped that the country would be “back in business” by then, but most of us understood that was a hopeful desire rather than a sure prediction.
While many churches are attempting to reclaim normalcy and energize parishioners by doing something different on Easter Sunday, I have personally struggled as a pastor with a simple question: why?
Why would we treat a holiday that is not commanded in Scripture any differently than the weekly gathering which was instituted in Scripture?
Whatever I would do for Easter Sunday, I should be prepared to do any Sunday.
Now before you begin to stone me with Easter eggs or any other thing you can get your quarantined hands on, let me explain. I am all for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. I just choose to celebrate it every week on Sunday. I am actually so enraptured by the defeat of death that it really affects every single day of my life.
The Origin of Easter
If you trace the origin of the holiday of Easter, you will not find it depicted in the Bible. In fact, many people disagree on the origin altogether.
- Some claim that the name Easter came from redeeming a holiday focused upon a goddess celebrated in England named Eostre, who was celebrated at the beginning of spring.
- The Saxons of Northern Europe had a month in Spring they called Eosturmononath.
- Some believe the word came from a German word for word east (ost).
- Some religious scholars believe the time was chosen based upon Spring and Christ coming back to life echoes what happens throughout the world.
- Since Christ was crucified on Passover, the date should be tied to that holiday as well.
All that to say, it’s kind of a hot mess trying to figure it out. Do you really know what “Easter” even means? Have you ever seen that word in the Bible? It’s not there.
What is there?
Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1), and, subsequently, the early church prioritized gathering on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).
Yes, we need to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, but it seems like we should do that weekly instead of just annually.
The Dependence on Easter
What has church leaders spazzing out right now is that the most-anticipated Sunday of the year is going to have empty parking lots. Pastors will often comment that Easter Sunday is the church’s Superbowl.
I sure hope we can find a better analogy soon.
- It is the highest attended Sunday for the entire year.
- The pastor goes “all-out” for his best sermon of the entire year (which might sound just like last year’s for all those Easter-only attendees).
- The worship team has prepared a cantata, drama, or epic musical extravaganzas.
- We strongly encourage our people to invite people to church for this week.
- Families adorn themselves in pastels.
- Photo booths are set up to encourage families to partake in free-advertising for the church.
- We canvas our communities with bunnies, eggs, and Peeps because…well, Easter.
After all our Eggs-travaganzas, we return to the humdrum weekly pace of church life with the glories of our productions in the rearview.
“At least there is next year,” we tell ourselves. We can go over-the-top again when it’s Easter time.
The Idolatry of Easter
Only this year, there will be no over-the-top productions. All churches will be attempting to connect with their churches over mediums that are a supplement to the real thing. Our plans have been canceled.
Have we depended on the Easter holiday to an idolatrous level?
Idolatry is when you attempt to shrink God down into some form of which you can manage. In all of our pageantry that we give to a holiday that has been extremely commercialized to the point of absurdity, have we distorted it? Have we turned it into something it was never meant to be? Among all of our celebrations, have we missed the purpose? Are we celebrating Easter more than Christ?
The resurrection is meant to be a daily reality – not a yearly observance.
Among all the things that the COVID-19 has robbed from us, there will be a real letdown for many Christians without their Easter rituals. But for all of us who believe that Jesus actually rose from the grave, I wonder if we will be open to the fact that he is still working despite these perilous times. What if the one who defeated death can actually work this situation to the good of those who love him and called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28)?
What if God uses the shutdown of our rituals to teach us the true power of the resurrection? Maybe this time will cause us to crave every Sunday rather than wait on one Sunday a year to gather together. Pastors won’t be able to give the grand slam sermon to a packed house this year, but what if we preached with his resurrection as the fuel for our fire every Sunday we can gather?
I planned last year that I would preach through Philippians this Spring. I have stayed on track among all the craziness of our changing world. Since I was preaching through this book, I decided to have a particular passage land on the day that we celebrate Easter/Resurrection Sunday as a society. I have been looking forward to sharing this verse with our people for quite some time:
Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Knowing the power of Jesus’ resurrection cannot be contained to a simple day on a calendar. Knowing him means everything changes.
I’m gonna highlight the power of the resurrection on the day when our culture observes the Easter holiday, but I’m not gonna put all my eggs in that one basket (pun intended). Jesus putting death to death is too monumental to contain it to one calendar day.
- I want to preach every Sunday like it’s Easter Sunday.
- I want to worship every time the doors are open because I realize the loss of when they aren’t open.
- I want to share the gospel with my friends because it’s good news all the time rather than just a particular season.
His resurrection is greater than our rituals.
In the midst of all our chaos, I am thankful for the reminders he is giving me. Maybe he is giving them to you as well.
Jesus is alive!
Even if your celebrations have been canceled.