Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Preacher's Thoughts on Easter

When I think of Easter I think of growing up and hunting eggs with my family. I remember all of those Sunday mornings I woke up to see my new candy-filled, Easter basket on the kitchen table. There are pictures of me sitting out in our lawn in California in my diaper eating a huge hollow chocolate bunny. They are horrific. I think the only way they got me clean after that was by hosing me down. I remember going to our friends’ house one Sunday after church and playing with a new rabbit they had received as a gift after we had eaten lunch and searched for eggs. I remember an 88 year-old widow lady from our church, my secret pal when I was about 10, who had bought me a new shirt to wear for church one Easter Sunday. I wore it and sat next to her. I was so thankful for her and for the shirt. Easter for children is about candy, egg hunting, and fun times with family and friends.

When I grew up and got behind a pulpit, Easter took on a different meaning for me. It was the day I could expect the biggest crowd of the year in our building. I began to think of ways I could make the biggest impact on visitors and the people in the church who were not faithful in their attendance. I learned each year by trial and error how to preach meaningful lessons that would hopefully bring people back another Sunday. I have been excited, nervous, stressed, and have felt just about ever other human emotion you can imagine in anticipation of the pulpit opportunity an Easter Sunday brings.

Easter is different for the preacher. The reality is that after the largest crowd of the year in the morning, the lowest crowd of the year is that evening (see also Mother’s Day). It is ironic that this man-made holiday, which supposedly seeks to elevate the Christ, is really more about people, their families, and their traditions. If you are a preacher you really have a choice to either be happy that you had an opportunity to preach the gospel to more people than usual, or you can let yourself be disillusioned by the people who are somewhat disingenuous. You could become depressed when you see Christians who are usually faithful Sunday nights cater to their unfaithful families for a day because you know they are just trying to keep everyone happy and together.

I am personally confident that there is a reason why God never ordained specific religious holidays for the New Testament church. For one thing, God knows that man’s nature is to change the original intent of any religious observance to suit himself. The Israelites did this with every holy day in the Mosaic system at one time or another. They were often disciplined for it, and eventually God completely wiped the old covenant away by bringing His Son to the cross. It is merely my own opinion, but I believe that in the Christian age God has refused to give men an opportunity to celebrate a specific religious holiday regarding Jesus. He knows man will always abuse it and change it. In the meantime, we have made new religious holidays anyway. And for each person, these holidays mean something different.

What you need to know about Easter, or Christmas, or any other religious holiday that man has created, is that you are not obligated to observe it. At the same time, you need to respect what these holidays mean to those who observe them and respect their right to act according to what they know. Romans 14 teaches us that while we know certain days mean something to some and nothing to others, we ought not to offend anyone who esteems one day greater than another. Trust me, whenever I have written or taught about man-made religious holidays I have always approached the subject with trepidation. I am hugely in the minority. My views on Easter and Christmas and other religious holidays are largely unpopular. I understand that teaching what the Bible says about those things is going to be an eye opener for many. It may even offend them or cause them to struggle to understand the point I am actually wanting to make. And when this happens everything else I may have been trying to accomplish with those I want to influence for Jesus and the church can be lost in the shuffle. Even today, if I post this some people will have to argue with what I have said here. They are too convicted in their own thoughts about it. They won’t be able to stand it. These struggles I face are all a part of being different from the world.

But Bible facts are Bible facts. There are no “high days” for Christians. Not when everything we do or say is supposed to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col. 3:17). Not when every Sunday has been set aside by God for worship and the commemoration of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Not when there is zero authority from the text to observe a day that is not in the text. Not when the apostles never observed them. Not when the church of the Bible never observed them. Not when God never asked for them to be observed.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE Easter. Though instituted by man, it is to me a reminder of what my Lord did for me, and I am thankful that a great portion of the world is still remembering that, even if it is just for a day. This holiday also ushers in the spring, warmer temperatures, and the beginning of new life after several months of death, and no doubt this is spiritually analogous for people in the northern hemisphere as to what God can do on the other side of the grave. Did I mention I also LOVE jelly beans? Easter is jelly bean season! There is a whole aisle in Walmart dedicated to different kinds of jelly beans! And beyond all of this I am going to have an opportunity to talk to people about Jesus for a Sunday who I might otherwise never get to meet.

I remember years ago in my younger preaching years talking to a man who rarely attended church services. He had just gone to an Easter service the week before at a neighboring congregation. He said the preacher got up and berated all the people who only come twice a year. The visitor’s response was that he was never going back again. He said, “And he wonders why I don’t come! Well who would want to come and hear about what is wrong with them all of the time? I need encouragement. I already know what is wrong with me. I don’t need the reminder the one time I actually get up enough courage to come to church.”

Funny, isn’t it, how we humans are? The reality is that we desperately need God. We need His word every day. We need to be faithful. And we need to actually be able to distinguish between man-offered religion and God-ordained religion. Easter is a true reminder that we are struggling in this world as a people to follow God. In the background is the remembrance of the event that changed the world, and in the foreground is the fact that many people don’t even know that God never asked us to celebrate Easter at all. It could be said that the world has not been changed by the death, burial, and resurrection as much as it needs to be changed. Jesus died that we might all die to ourselves, and yet because of our lack of attention to His Word and our desire to do things our way, we still find ourselves in a place of confusion as to what we are actually supposed to be practicing in the name of the Lord.

As I look to this Sunday, I am promising myself that I am going to be thankful. I will not concentrate on local Easter gimmicks from big city churches. I will not be cynical and judge the hearts of the people who I may not see again for 6 months. I will not be a 21st century scribe and pretend that I have everything figured out when others do not. Instead I am going to take this opportunity to love God, and to love people, and to pray that this one day will lead to many other days of faithfulness to the One who bled and died for all men.

Easter, even if it is man-made, definitely does one thing that is absolutely undeniable and beyond human comprehension. It reminds us that God’s love cannot be quenched. In a world lost and spiraling away from God in the sickness of sin and death – there is still a day remembered – yes, even set aside because Jesus died and rose again. It is an absolute fact. Jesus came. He lived. He loved. He died. He arose. He ascended. And the world knows it. And the world, as long as it remains, will always know it.

“He is not here, but is risen…”- Luke 24:6

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