Easter is a big day in church world. The biggest.
The cliché, familiar from religion text books and every newspaper ever, is that “Easter is the holiest day in the Christian year.”
How we measure degrees of holiness may not be crystal clear – we don’t have anything like a geiger counter or a thermometer for holiness, so maybe we are using one of those 1-10 or smiley-face-to-frowny-face pain scales like at the doctor’s office, or the audience survey method like on Family Feud, or some other unspecified technique – but certainly theologically Easter and its events are central to the very phenomenon of Christianity as a world religion, and ritually and socially Easter is The Big Day.
[Around the seminary people used to say that Holy Week is Hell Week for Pastors. At least three special services, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunrise, and possibly Easter Vigil if you had that kind of church, each with special music and probably some other special worship elements that need choreography and a special bulletin and a separate message, plus Easter itself. For which you are supposed to have an absolutely knock-it-out-of-the-park sermon, for all those folks who will not hear you preach again for another year. Some of whom you don’t know very well, some of whom you know all too well, some of whom are visitors who might come back if … So, you’re aiming for pitch-perfect theology that maintains your integrity while joyously affirming hope while extending pastoral sensitivity to all the people who are feeling sad on Easter, and feeling guilty about feeling sad on Easter, or who are just not “feeling it” this Easter, and feeling defensive about not “feeling it,” while also nimbly sidestepping all the other theological landmines you have stepped on in the past, along with pitch-perfect delivery … so, you know, no pressure. No wonder Second Sunday in Easter is a popular pastoral vacation Sunday.]
Churches are a this-worldly phenomenon. I, for one, am not going to blame them for that. That would be pretty hypocritical of me, considering how this-worldly I am myself.
This Easter, Easter in “these times,” is different.
People keep mentioning that, surely not because we don’t all know it, but rather because the distance between the Big Production Event of “the Easter we are used to” and this Easter is so big, so pervasive, that we keep noticing it.
And yet, at the same time, it is not different at all.
Churches may be a this-worldly phenomenon, but the Church is also not of this world. Its Easter message speaks to this world of another, larger reality, of which this world is only a small part, and not the determinant one, either.
That Easter message is not different this year than it was last year, or the year before that, or the decade before that, or the century before that, or the millennium before that. It’s not different than it was the first year there was an Easter. The Church has the same Easter message it always has. The same message it has every Sunday, and all the other days, for that matter.
Christ is risen.
With all that implies.
This year, no different from every other year, the Church simply proclaims its Easter message once again to its world. By that, frankly, we mean to ourselves first of all, to the churches and our own this-worldly selves.
How on earth could it be any other way?
Because who on earth do we think we are?
So the Church proclaims that message, in whatever times the churches are in, in whatever way the churches and hopefully the rest of the world can hear it. In “these times,” that involves a good deal of live streaming and video conferencing, along with email and telephone and regular mail.
And our this-worldly selves, hopefully, catch some of the notes of that “real but far off hymn that hails the new creation” and get that song in our ears once again for a bit and feel it sound an echo in our souls once again and remember that we are Easter people and that means something for how we live every day, and commit, once again, to remembering that tune for longer than it takes to get to dinner with the fam …
But honestly, I always need to keep listening to it to stay on key …
So, this is how it sounded today in my world (not including Easter sunrise service, which hasn’t been uploaded yet). A particularly great day for listening:
[This is the trace of the Easter livestream of the Corydon Presbyterian Church in Corydon, Indiana, with Pastor Rev. Cindy Cushman, and Music Director Beth Bostock. I beg forgiveness for not knowing who the liturgist is. (Full disclosure: I am still trying to figure out how to see a Facebook Live livestream from the beginning, instead of about 5 minutes into it, so until I added this link, I didn’t even know we had a liturgist this morning.)]
[This is the PC(USA)’s Easter service, with Rev. Dr. Diana Moffett, President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, assisted by others.]
Christ is risen indeed.