Another Easter week has arrived. This is the pinnacle of the Christian calendar and the centerpiece of the Christian faith. It’s on this week that we reflect on Jesus’ final days, His death, and ultimately, His resurrection. It’s His conquering of death that we celebrate not only on this day but also on all other days.
It’s this week, though, that seems to manifest a lot of extra stuff. Make no mistake about it, if you look around even a little, you can see it. This is the week that most regular church attenders make every effort to attend. It is also this week that many who attend less regularly deem as one of the few weeks in which they’ll participate. This, along with Christmas Eve, may be the extent of their attendance each year. It’s also the week that church staffs and volunteers attempt to roll out the red carpet for all the guests who might arrive.
It’s in all those different things where, quite frankly, you’ll likely find some oddities. Think about it for a minute. If you’re a regular, you’re possibly facing unusual or extra service times. You’re feeling a pressure to be extra awesome in your volunteer role, smile an extra bit more, and DO NOT be late. And if you’re a guest, you’re feeling all kinds of awkward, right? You have to decide which church to attend, or you have to go back and face the folks at the one you’ve been absent from. But make no mistake about it, you ARE wanted! You’re getting email blasts, seeing Facebook ads and Instagram stories, receiving door hangers and yard signs, etc.
And then there are the hours and days after Easter! Once we’ve all left, we’ve got to make sure that everyone knows what happened. Attenders post cute Easter pics soon after they’ve checked-in on their social media channels. But you won’t be outdone by our churches! We will blast pictures of full auditoriums, publicly be ”humbled and honored” by our high attendances, and allude to a “powerful moment” that inevitably had to have happened that day.
As a potential guest, I’d imagine that you also are feeling some anxiety. Questions like:
“Where do I go?”
“Do I have to dress up?”
“What do I do with my kids?”
And probably even more daunting are questions like:
“Am I going to be judged?”
“What will people think of me?”
“Will I be accepted?”
These are all fair questions. But let me assure you: you are exponentially more welcome than you would imagine. It is my suspicion that nearly every church you could visit would be overjoyed by your presence. No matter your background, social views, or even opposing opinions of faith, you are welcome. If you have a legitimate reason to suspect that wouldn’t be the case, then try somewhere else. That’s not to say that a church won’t and shouldn’t clearly communicate their convictions. But Jesus Himself allowed people to follow alongside Him, investigating His claims. Plus, just because you’re new doesn’t mean that you’re spiritually lost. No one is assuming that. You could be new to the faith. We understand. You could have had a major transition that led you away from the church. We understand. You could have been hurt by a church and are afraid to try another. We understand.
Still though, all that stuff can cause some anxiety, right?
You’re not alone.
As a pastor, I can’t even begin to describe my eager and joyful anticipation of Easter. But that excitement is matched by the anxiety that I also feel. Leadership slogans like “you only get one chance to make a first impression” run through my mind. Everything needs to look perfect, sound perfect, and feel perfect. Between Sundays and outside events, I probably preach 75 times a year and never get nervous. But on Easter Sunday, it’s different. This is supposed to be our “Super Bowl” Sunday, right? It feels like this has to be my best.
However, there’s a problem in all of this. Despite our self justification, all this pressure that we place on ourselves and on this day is not helpful. It is not helping you, the Church, or anyone else. In fact, it’s hurting all of us.
Our churches aren’t nearly as put together as we feel tempted to convince you when you visit. In fact, here’s the honest truth. Sometimes we don’t have every volunteer role filled. Sometimes we miss an opportunity to welcome someone new. We might not always have this many people here. The building and grounds might not always look this good. We don’t always have that string section (insert large choir, guest vocalist, etc.) every Sunday. Some sermons are better than others. And sadly, we’re not as diverse as it might appear. Frankly, we may not always look like Easter Sunday. And for someone who is a perfectionist and believes in the high value of all those things, that’s hard for me to admit. But the reality is that those things simply point us toward something bigger - the beauty of Jesus’ redemptive work. And that work is just as glorious every week of the year.
Yes, we would love for you to join us on Easter! We would be thrilled to see you. But if it’s cool with you, I’d just as soon prefer to not spend our morning trying to impress each other. Please, please, please push aside anything of that sort that might cross your mind. You are welcome this Sunday. You’re equally welcome the next Sunday. And the next. Come get to know us - a bunch of sinners hanging out at a hospital for the hurting - a bit better. We’d love to get to know you, too. We don’t always have our act perfectly together - on Sunday mornings or in the rest of our lives. But we’re trying. And we’re thankful for God’s grace in the journey.
Finally, churches and pastors, let’s reset a bit and take all this self-induced pressure off of ourselves. Let’s get after it and do everything with excellence in a manner worthy of the calling we’ve received. But let’s also remember that the power in Easter Sunday isn’t found in what we can contrive. It’s found in what Jesus already did. He doesn’t have to “show up in a big way” to warrant our Easter efforts. His overcoming death is more than sufficient for that. Let’s strive for people to not leave impressed by us but, rather, overwhelmed by Him. Jesus should be the one getting the glory. Preach the Gospel clearly and trust Him with the results. His work on the cross is already accomplished. We need not stress about the power of our message, nor do we need to add to the message to make it more appealing. Let’s diligently know the culture and think creatively on how we tell the Good News effectively. But let’s also be reminded that the more we look like the world, the less we’ll actually be able to impact it.
So, in conclusion, let me offer this to all of you: Happy Easter. HE IS RISEN!