3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…
This was the epistle reading from today’s lectionary, the first Monday after Easter Sunday, and my first thought was how lovely it is when God gets right back to me with His Word. So reliable the Lord is in answering petitions, prayers, even thought bubbles that haven’t been quite fully composed to send His way in a prayer.
So it was that I awakened this morning with the thought bubble that had gone to bed with me. What ‘good news’ was heard by those who worshiped in God’s church yesterday? And were those who had celebrated the good news with brothers and sisters of the same faith waking this morning with a renewed mind? Were they thinking differently, if at all, about how they live as a believer in Jesus Christ? Did only a few, or many or none at all leave worship convicted by the Word, and specifically John’s Gospel account in which Mary Magdalene proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to the astonished disciples, putting in motion a forever changed world? Thy kingdom came, thy will was done.
This letter from Paul to the first Christians in Corinth felt like an auto-reply to my formulating email-to-God question about what difference, if any at all, did hearing the good news of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday make to those who believe in God, who is Father, God who is Son, God who is Holy Spirit, but do not follow Jesus as a disciple on the big scale and on a smaller scale who do not dwell in the Lord’s Word and house regularly? How firmly were those in the pews yesterday holding onto the message proclaimed? Did they grab a hold of the message at all? Was the message proclaimed?
Paul was recalling with his church community how the good news that they heard and knew – and that he had delivered to them – is expected to be manifesting – how their lives as God’s church were to be transforming and becoming sanctified. How they shall, then, be living. A letter that illustrates the power of God’s Word – of proclamation of the gospel – to convict the hearts and minds of God’s people.
So, what better day than yesterday when Christian houses were filled to the brim with believers and seekers, sinners and saints to hear that gospel – the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John. Filled and brimming over with what church folk refer to as C&E Christians, or elsewhere, CEO’s – Christmas and Easter Only (pejoratively referred to as ‘cheasters’) – those who show up to worship the Lord, God on Christmas and Easter.
In my experience, I have seen fewer and fewer of these believers at Christmas. The Barna Group (a Christian-based research institute) supports my personal observation in a study that indicated while attendance does go up at Christmas, it is amongst regular worshipers more than CEO’s. I think that holy day has been so co-opted by the culture, that most Western people who identify as Christian feel no need to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a religious setting. Family gatherings and gift giving and carol singing and stories about the magic of Christmas seem to satisfy.
Easter remains the bigger draw of the two holidays amongst CEO’s. While much of the holy day has, like Christmas, been co-opted by the culture – Spring, New Life, Equinox, bunnies, eggs, brunches, hats – most Americans do consider Easter a religious holiday. That’s the good news but just one part of the story. Though identified as a religious holiday, most Americans – most of those CEOs in our pews yesterday – correctly identify the meaning of Easter. From the Barna Study:
In response to a free-response query, most Americans described Easter as a religious celebration. Two out of every three Americans (67%) mention some type of theistic religious element. Common responses included describing it as a Christian holiday, a celebration of God or Jesus, a celebration of Passover, a holy day, or a special time for church or worship attendance.
Even within the religious definitions offered by Americans there is a certain degree of confusion: 2% of Americans said that Easter is about the “birth of Christ”; another 2% indicated it was about the “rebirth of Jesus”; and 1% said it is a celebration of “the second coming of Jesus.”
I am certain that folks who left my worship community yesterday heard the gospel proclaimed in a way that would erase any confusion they might have had coming into worship about the meaning of Easter. Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed! we recited together.
But I wonder if the message – once again clarified – took hold of any CEO’s hearts? Did it grip them, awe them, surprise them as we prayed in the Prayers of the People,
May we here today have the persistent faith of Mary Magdalene and the surprised belief of Peter and John
I suppose time will tell.
I’m interested because the call that came to me to serve the gospel in God’s church emerged out of an interest and passion for how the Holy Spirit has agency in God’s people – how a believer is nudged on from his or her own baptism by grace to know God more deeply, how to be like Jesus Christ, to live as He would have us live. It’s called Christian formation – sanctification -discipleship. It’s about living into and out of our baptismal identity, not worshiping it on Sundays only, or only twice a year. How to dwell in the Lord’s house and Word, while otherwise renting space in the world into which we were born. I call it Monday through Saturday discipleship, for Sunday is the Lord’s Day – the one day a week not about me, but the Lord, God.
So I can’t help but wonder what preachers and pastors in God’s church could be doing differently on Easter Sundays to usher in a new season for God’s church. One in which most Americans will not only identify the meaning of Easter correctly, but also have moved out of the CEO category to regular worship. What could be said on Easter Sunday that would capture their imagination enough to want to live out what they know to be true – that there’s a new life, a new way of being in the world because of what Jesus did on the cross for them?
I wonder what it would take to grab the hearts and minds of all these beloved seekers – these CEO’s, these doubting Thomas’, these children and grandchildren, these brothers and sisters, neighbors and workmates who showed up yesterday in our churches – so that today, this first Monday after Easter, their lives as believers have begun anew, following him not only just Monday through Saturday, but also all the blessed year long – Easter through Christmas.
Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed!