I have a confession to make: I don’t get very excited about Easter. I mean don’t get me wrong I know that Easter, that Resurrection Sunday, is the reason for it all. I know, as the Apostle Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). I know all this. I am fully aware of the power and purpose of Christ’s Resurrection – in principle – but if I’m being honest, truly honest in terms of personal experience, Easter doesn’t get me all revved up and rambunctious like I know it should; like I pray it would.
I came to this conclusion recently when reading and studying extensive material on the Resurrection. In the same week in which I was reading the works of Saint Athanasius, Karl Barth, Jurgen Moltmann and N.T. Wright, all on the subject of Christ’s Resurrection, I also received an email from a good friend inviting me to his annual Superbowl party. Now, before I go any further (and for the sake of empathy, or maybe pity) you must understand that my friend hosts an outstanding Superbowl party. I think it’s the only Sunday of the year he actually plans not to go to church just so he can prepare a feast for his friends. He slow cooks a dozen racks of ribs, prepares several pounds of chicken wings, takes the time to smoke brisket, and even adds a delicate pastry filled escargot and aged cheddar. He goes all out! So as you can imagine, as soon as I read his email, my mouth began to salivate. As soon as I received his invitation I started to get excited. And that’s when the Holy Spirit so aptly granted me the gift of conviction. I paused and confessed to myself and to my Lord, ‘I want to be as excited for Easter Sunday as I am about the Superbowl.’
Early in the Christian church Easter Sunday was the highest of holidays, or holy-days. It was the biggest feast day of the year, and for these faithful disciples of Christ, their feasting meant so much more because Resurrection Sunday was a climactic celebration at the end of a long, drawn-out season of fasting and intense discipleship. As liturgical scholar Martin Connell (2006) notes, “what became Lent had its origins in the Alexandrian church, where a forty-day period of fasting and baptismal preparation, already associated with Jesus’ temptation, appears to have begun” (p. 72). In part, for these early Christians, what made Easter Sunday so joyous or dare I say, rambunctious, was the fact that many of their friends, new converts to the faith, were completing their first season of discipleship (or catechism) with the initiating rite of baptism. It was a huge party! It wasn’t just about the personal experience or emotions involved but about the shared, communal experience of welcoming and celebrating new brothers and sisters in Christ.
For the early Christians, Easter was both a celebration for the body, a breaking of the Lenten fast with great feasting, and it was a celebration of the Body, as the community of faith welcomed new followers of Jesus. Now, you might think that this would be enough for me to contemplate my conviction of Savior vs. Superbowl, but I know there’s more. For those of us who are pastors, while the idea of feasting and fellowship might at first inspire and enliven us, the truth is, once we begin to consider the practicalities of making it happen, it just sounds exhausting.
As a pastor, seasons such as Advent and Lent are anticipatory and glorious in purpose but in the end are often arduous and tiring in experience. I mean after preparing a sermon series, Sunday School, potlucks, prayer nights, plans for a Passover Seder and a Good Friday service, come Easter morning it’s almost as if we have to manufacture our excitement for the highest of holy days. It’s almost as if we need to be resurrected from the dead alongside our Lord. And that’s when I remember, I do, and we will. In 1746, with his twelve-versed Resurrection ballad, All Ye That Seek the Lord Who Died, Charles Wesley put it this way,
The third auspicious morn is come,
And calls your Savior from the tomb,
The bands of death are torn away,
The yawning tomb gives back its prey.
Haste then, ye souls that first believe,
Who dare the Gospel-Word receive,
Your faith with joyful hearts confess,
Be bold, be Jesus’ witnesses.
Go tell the followers of your Lord
Their Jesus is to life restored;
He lives, that they His life may find;
He lives, to quicken all mankind.
Who dare the Gospel-Word receive; I love that line. Do we dare? Do I dare treat Easter like it’s a party? Do I dare party like it’s 33 A.D.? Like I know we are living in a time that is After. Death. Easter Sunday should be a party, or maybe to put it another way, it’s already a party. The only question is, am I a part of it? Resurrection Sunday should be the biggest party of the year! We should prepare and share the finest food and expect the greatest celebration; but we must not forget that even the most anticipated of Superbowl parties, even the most memorable of Wedding receptions, require a great deal of preparation; maybe even an entire season of it. Resurrection is the single most climactic event in God’s story. The Resurrection was what God’s story was building toward all along and it is the only reason the story continues today. Easter Sunday is the reason we remember, reenact and experience the truth that He lives, to quicken all mankind. Resurrection is the greatest of gifts at the end of a forty-day season of preparation and initiation. Resurrection Sunday is the reason for it all, as the Apostle Paul declared, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man” (1 Corinthians 15:20-21).
I desire to be rambunctious for the Resurrection! It is my prayer that my excitement for the Superbowl will pale in comparison to my anticipation of Easter Sunday.
So Pastor, I encourage you to do what you must do to make Easter notably and noticeably the most significant and unusual Sunday of them all. For it is because of this one day that we gather together every other Sunday in the year. Share the story, break some bread, prepare a feast; fill a delicate pastry with a combination of escargot and aged cheddar. Do whatever it is you need to do to make it meaningful; Your faith with joyful hearts confess, Be bold, be Jesus’ witnesses.
Questions to consider:
- What can you do in and through the preaching moment to encourage “rambunctious” celebration of Easter this year?
- How can you as a pastor spread the burden of fasting and feasting so that Easter becomes a distributed blessing, not a pastoral burden?
Connell, M. (2006). Eternity Today, Volume 2: On the Liturgical Year. New York, NY: