Easter’s Hope and Joy

I have always loved Easter Sunday. I have happy childhood memories of my mother making new matching dresses for my older sister and me to wear, of Easter baskets filled with the usual paper grass and chocolate eggs and always an unexpected surprise, of the brass and joyful hymns in worship, and lunch after church with a table full of family and often a guest or two.

While my own faith and even some doubts have matured over 30 years of serving the church, I still hang on to the sheer hope and joy of it all. Though I know some pastors who get a bit cynical about Easter. They complain that fewer folks show up for the more solemn and darker Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services before we get to Easter’s brightening dawn. They bemoan the “C and E’s” (the Christmas Eve and Easter only worshippers). I have heard of a preacher who looks over the top of his glasses at the Easter morning congregation and says with a hint of sarcasm each year, “You know we do this every Sunday.” But I myself have never wanted to put the Easter Sunday swell of people down.

Pastor and writer Brian McLaren has a special prayer for pastors on Easter Sunday that covers the broad spectrum of how we preachers variously approach this High Holy Day. His prayer also speaks to the longing of all of us who bring our faith and doubt to the proclamation of the resurrection. He says in part:

Dear Lord, I pray for all the pastors today
Who will feel enormous pressure to have their sermon
Match the greatness of the subject
And will surely feel they have failed.
(I pray even more for those who think they have succeeded.)

Help them to know that it is enough
Simply and faithfully to tell the story
Of women in dawn hush ...
Of men running half-believing ...
Of rolled stones and folded grave-clothes ...
Of an empty tomb and overflowing hearts…

 For death is not the last word.
Violence is not the last word.
Hate is not the last word.
Money is not the last word.
Intimidation is not the last word.
Political power is not the last word.
Condemnation is not the last word.
Betrayal and failure are not the last word.
No: each of them are left like rags in a tomb,
And from that tomb,
Arises Christ,
Alive.

If there is one soul who comes to worship on Easter Sunday, whom the church may never see again, and that message penetrates and calls forth a response of hope and joy, then all orchestration of Easter worship is worth it. Worth it, indeed.