Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Wearisomeness of Easter

This past Thursday I met with a group of pastor friends that I meet with regularly for encouragement, planning of mutual activities and prayer.  They are good men (and one woman).  It is a loose group of about a dozen, although there is a core that has been a part of the group for several (some for many) years.

We often don’t meet the Thursday before Easter.  But we have grown closer over the past year because of a series of events and this year not only was there no talk of not meeting the week before Easter, but almost everyone was there. 

And it was good. In fact they planned to go together as a group to a Good Friday “Stations of the Cross” put on by Ethnos Church in Beaverton in order to water their own spiritual lives.

image I noticed, however, one over-riding emotion:  weariness.  For some of the pastors the Lenten season is a hubub of activities. Regular Lenten services, and then during “Holy Week” the activity kicks into high gear.  For others, who are perhaps not so liturgically oriented spring break has ended and there have been special projects and missions trips over spring break.   And now…here comes Easter.

Wherever they had come from, my pastor friends were tired.  One beloved brother brought an article on “The Benefits of Rest and Relaxation” by Brian Rice of the Leadership ConneXtions Intl.  And while the article was excellent, I could sense an irony in the eyes of many around the circle:  “there’ll be no rest or relaxation for this group today.”

And that affected their conversations about Easter.  While I have learned to separate the “dumping” that happens at ministers gatherings from how those same ministers feel when they get away from those collegial times, there was not just a wearisomeness, but a wariness about this coming Sunday. 

  • There may be extra services
  • The Sunday may begin with a pre-dawn Easter Sunrise service.
  • There will likely be parking nightmares
  • There will be people who expect you to know their name and their children’s names even though they only come once a year (if they don’t have anything better to do).
  • There is pressure on the preacher to do “extra well” today since there are (usually) so many guests.
  • Offerings will almost certainly be down (a universal phenomenon of churches –on special high attendance Sundays, the offerings plummet)
  • Special programs like special musical presentations, dramas, videos all come with the ever-present threat of glitches and temperamental participants.
  • Or there may be unmet expectations:  attendance may NOT be up, the service may NOT be all that great, there will NOT be special baptisms.  And people will begin to wonder silently, if not out loud, “What is wrong with OUR church?  What is wrong with OUR pastor?”

I don’t know if I would say that they dreaded Easter, but the sense around the room was definitely “We’ll sure be glad when THIS is over.”

And I’ve been there enough years to be able to identify with that.

I suspect that many who read these words either are in the thick of last minute Easter prep or have just completed Easter activities and Easter Sunday.

You do not minimize the incredible importance and agony endured on our behalf by Christ on the cross.  You deeply value the great mysteries of atonement and forgiveness that happened there on Calvary.  You do not misunderstand the incredible power demonstrated by God in raising Jesus up from the dead and the ability of that same power to transform our lives into something far different and far more alive that anything which we can imagine. 

But there is still a weariness that can come with the hubub of institutional activities (whether that institution is a megachurch or a house church). 

There are those ever present voices of condemnation that would tell us that we OUGHT NOT feel like that:  how dare we be weary on what is the churches “high day” of the year (or as my own pastor—Pastor Guy-- put it last night in his wrap up of our Good Friday service, the “power day of the church.”)  They are the voices (sometimes internal voices) that judge us as inadequate and not quite holy enough for feeling that way.

And yet, I think those early players on that first Easter were more like us than they were like the hollow heralds of hyper-happiness.

  • Soldiers attentively, but cynically guarding the tomb of a dead man, not fearing that anyone would come out of the tomb, but making sure that no one could get in to steal the body and upset the status quo…their superiors.
  • Women who came bleary-eyed in the wee hours of the morning to anoint the body of the dead friend they loved.
  • Mary forlornly weeping in the garden after discovering that the body of her beloved Jesus was gone from the tomb.
  • Disciples who hid in the upper room, fearful that the soldiers who had come and dragged Jesus away, were now out looking for them.
  • Two men, giving up on the dream of “what might have been” and heading home (like sensible people) back to their lives in Emmaus. 

But Jesus interrupted each of those lives. He surprised them.  Even in the face of their apathy, weariness, cynicism, grief, and fear He stepped in and brought transformation.  When it was least expected, suddenly Jesus was there and everything was changed. 

I don’t worry for my dear brothers and sister.  They are good leaders.  They are committed men and women. They are people of noble souls.  But my prayer for them (and for you) is that you will see God interrupting you this Easter. In the midst of the preparation and the execution of services, and the demands and high expectations, that you will be able to see the risen Lord.

A Lord who is not judging you for how you feel today; but not leaving you where you feel today.   Bringing to you, as He did that first Easter, fear for the cynical, wonder for the weary, light for those caught in the dark of grief, joy for the fearful, hope for the hopeless.

May you see the Christ…the risen Christ…today and in the days to come. And may it bring you joy.

Visits Since Dec. 11, 2007