I find Easter Sunday to be one of the hardest worship services to endure. So much of Easter Sunday feels forced. There seems to be an unspoken rule about Easter- be happy. We force ourselves to be joyful, and anyone who’s not on board, well, that’s just too bad. It’s like, ‘Be happy! Don’t you know it’s EASTER? What’s wrong with you?’ Being a pastor, I admit I’ve been guilty of this approach. (Example- I put LOTS of exclamation points in last year’s Easter bulletin.)
I sometimes come away from Easter Sunday feeling guilty when I’m not as joyful as I think I should be.
I hesitate to write this post, because I don’t want to come across as a wet blanket. But Easter Sunday is just plain hard. I don’t have all the answers as to what would constitute a good service on this ultimate Sunday. But I guess I would love a service that recognizes that even as Christ is risen, there’s still a lot of unresolved hurt out there. A chesty proclamation that ignores people’s pain comes across as nails-on-chalkboard for the couple contemplating divorce, who is prodded by family to go to church on Easter. It’s shrill to the husband who lost his wife to cancer, or to the teenager who is contemplating suicide, or to the guy who has no idea what to make of resurrection, or if he even believes in it. Again, I don’t want to be Mr. Debby Downer, but come on. Does Easter Sunday have to be a full flight from the reality of people’s pain? A vigorous proclamation doesn’t make resurrection any more real for people suffering. In fact, it’s likely to make the pain worse, and turn them off, and we won’t see most of them again till Christmas- if we’re lucky.
One thing that ties together all the resurrection stories in the gospels is the utter surprise and bewilderment of the Jesus’ followers as they confront the sonic shock of the empty tomb. In Mark’s gospel there’s even a sense of real fear at the prospects of Jesus’ resurrection. There’s nothing contrived, nothing forced- just pure astonishment, awe, and for many, genuine joy. A real joy, love and hope seized them in the midst of their grief, and wouldn’t let go, leading many to give their lives for the sake of what they knew in their hearts was real.
I hope and pray and trust that the Spirit will work through Easter Sunday, breathing resurrection life into the real wounds of people. I’d like a church that confesses that even as Christ is risen, he still bore the visible scars of his crucifixion. I’d like church on Easter Sunday to be a place where we can name our suffering, and yet also confess the untamable wild force and healing power of God that reaches beyond our imaginations, and is even more real than our pain. Resurrection is a power and reality in itself that doesn’t need to be forced, because it’s real. Because the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is active and alive. Although our lives are messy and complicated, and many suffer more than they can bear, we trust with our whole lives in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And at church we can name our longing to be touched by the wild, dazzling reality of resurrection, even in the midst of our suffering, even when we don’t feel it. Indeed, we can name our longing in full confidence that we are upheld by the same Spirit that lifted Jesus from the dead and breathed new life into him.
The risen Christ is a Christ who draws near to us, especially those who have a really hard time embracing Easter.