Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

The Unlovely Part of Easter

Easter is past, at least the day we set aside. In reality, we are now in the fifty days leading to Ascension—fifty days that celebrate the resurrection. From the Lenten journey of fasting, we have moved to the Easter journey of feasting.

Still, there is a bit of relief. For preachers and worship leaders (and parking attendants), Easter preparation can be a bit unnerving. There is tradition, along with the added expectations by others, including ourselves, to plan a day that is different from the others. In early church history, Easter was the weekend churches would go all out. Lamps were lit at sundown on Saturday night, and the whole Christian population would throng the basilica for a nocturnal vigil. Candidates would come forward for baptism. Satan would be renounced, and people were baptized three times, each in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Priests gathered in gold vestments set aside for this day, the bells of the church pealed jubilantly, and people would worship.

It’s not quite like this at Village. But you do step into the day knowing there will be some 300-400 additional guests. There are, of course, the faithful, who come as they do every week for a word from God. There is added attention to the music selections. There are new expressions of art in the sanctuary, and the ushers are more attentive to their tasks. Extra teams have been recruited to pray.

And then there is the preaching. For thirty two Easters, I have preached. I have never pulled an old sermon out of the file. That was then. Some weeks ago, I sensed God would have me preach Philippians 3:10—“My goal is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” We are working through this book, and it seemed a most appropriate text. It is a most appropriate text! Too many come on Easter to either commemorate a past event or be inspired by a future hope. Paul saw the resurrection in the present tense, as God‘s current power to rise above—

-debilitating habits

-draining attachments

-an embittered heart

-doubt and mistrust

-the circumstances

For those in Christ, we now have a power to submit to God’s answer—when it is not our answer. In Christ’s arising, we have the gravitas to stand with the courage of conviction; the power to hold on, when everyone around us seems to be letting go; the authority to give over our propensity to accumulate; and the capability to go out in mission and follow Christ, no matter where He calls, when He calls us, and to whatever He calls us.

This truth stirs me. It causes me to ask probing questions like—“Why do I settle for a life so weak?” “How often have I overlooked this ability to practice resurrection in the moment?” I imagine people will hear this text and be moved to action. Fears and anxieties will begin to evaporate as we respond with powerful prayers and music. This verse aligns us with Paul in his Roman cell. We too are on the same mission. We as the church are an outpost called to advance God’s kingdom. We have died to self, and now we live to God. The power of His resurrection stirs in us a need to shout—“I’m in!”

At least I like to envisage it this way. But invariably, as people pass by, some acknowledging my presence as they would a store greeter at Walmart, I hear those words every preacher fears to hear: “That was lovely.” Lovely? Whaaat? Is that what this April gathering was about? You would think people had just been at a wedding, or leaving Wimbledon after eating strawberries and cream, or seeking to find the right words after attending their 5 year old niece’s first recital. Such a lovely experience.

Lovely. Webster defines the word as something pleasing, likeable. I guess this is not all bad. People on Easter could say things far worse, like—

-“That was uncomfortable and unsettling.”

-“I did not come to have some preacher bring a disturbing word. Quit asking me to reassess my life and consider that my own purpose for living is not enough.”

-“That was not nice.” “Thanks for ruining my appetite for Easter brunch.”

-“Die to self! Are you mad?”

-“Are you implying I have no power in and of myself? Isn’t that rather condescending?”

-“Why can’t you preach a typical gospel text so we can reflect on a wonderful historic event and move on?”

-“That was so unlovely”

I think this would sound like people leaving…church.

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