March 23, 2018
The Down-Grade to Jesus Easter
In order to understand me, you will have to know something about the home and values that were used to raise me. Conservative would be a good word to describe my upbringing. Not legalistic, but conservative. Peering into my past, I can see there was a concentrated effort to promote safety, from the ills of this world and culture, that was instilled in us children. We were kept safe from attackers, thieves, and intruders, as well as from this continued dilution of honorable morals, the will of the people and its many a deficiencies, and an inability of His creation to keep anything at all Christian in its heart.
Maybe it is some of my upbringing lessons that creep into my mindset about this time every year. Maybe it is my unwavering understanding of the message of Christ and the reason for our salvation. Maybe the continued secularization of Christian holidays makes me cringe. I know, however, that I have noticed a pattern become more prominent in American Christian culture that saddens me each spring.
In my memory, it started with a peep. It was a special Sunday morning, the most meaningful to all Christians. We arrived early at our church in our Sunday best to hear the resurrection story again (I don’t mind hearing he same sermon every year, because it is so important that some Christians need a reminder.) But this Easter, for the first time in my 9 years of life, I was offered something foreign at church, something that, at the time, seemed so out of place. As my brother and I exited our puppet led Children’s Church class, we were each given an Easter Peep.
Not a live chicken, but rather a marshmallow yellow-sprinkled handful of deliciousness shaped in the contour of a nesting baby hen. Cute, with brown dots for eyes, the sun sparkled off the sugary glaze of this confection in my hand. A small group of children formed outside our classroom as each youngster took the quickest moment to devour the treat. As one of the boys in the class, I too found excitement in showing off my skills in biting the head off the seasonal candy bird.
More than 30 years later I remember that Easter. I remember going to church, but I don’t remember the sermon. I remember going to class, but I don’t remember the lesson. I remember friends, but I don’t remember who they were. I was there on Easter, the most significant of our Christian celebrations, and the dominant memory I have taken into my adulthood is that of a child-hand-sized yellow marshmallow. Looking back, that Easter was the first in what seemed to be a “Down-Grade” to church Easter.
When my family left church in the early afternoon of that memorable Sunday, we traveled to a park to spend the rest of our Easter celebration with friends and distant family who would drive to town from the next county over. Before my parents loaded us in the car however, us kids were handed our Easter baskets that had collected dust in the garage for the year, and all three of us bit the ears of a chocolate bunny that mom had placed in the fake green grass inside the basket. It was the first of the “after church” celebrations of Materialistic-Worldly Easter.
The rest of the day would embrace the secular traditional Easter Egg hunt, plenty of jelly beans, an adult softball game, and a meal that normally included some sort of bar-b-que, and a dish of potato salad that all of us under 10-years-old kept far away from every year. It was here that materialistic Easter was celebrated. It was worldly Easter, after the Jesus Easter celebration at church.
From that first Sunday when I remember “Materialistic-Worldly Easter” stepping into the space of “Jesus Easter,” I have noticed the demand of worldly wonders of pastel merriment continuing to creep with powerful tendencies into the American church. I hear the reasoning, “It will bring the unchurched to church,” the pastor of Party World Church with the Easter carnival says. It is the perfect time to tie religion with real world and meet our neighbors in an attempt to catch some flies with honey, it is argued. If the community is going to partake in an Easter egg hunt, and an Ice Cream Slip-N-Slide, then we should offer these carnal pageants under the banner of the church. Right? We will get their names on a visitors form, have our hospitality team call them a few times this week, and try to get them to come back next week and sit in our services that don’t offer this Easter-EGG-stravegant style of thrill. We will sell them on a guy in a bunny suit, a photo booth, candy-stuffed eggs, a live band, drawings for prizes, and a ton-o-fun dunk tank. This sounds just like what CEO’s (Christmas and Easter Only) church attenders want and need, right?
I understand that marketing and extravagant events might bring people to a church location, but I do wonder how many of them come for church. Marketing attracts, but gimmicks and games are not the same as evangelism. Events, no matter how wild and full of prizes, are not the gospel. I wonder if, when Party World Church draws the winning ticket for the $50 Wal-Mark gift-card, and the grand-prize X-Box on Easter this year, if the victor of these prizes will remember - Jesus. Will the kids begin to recognize this church as Christ-Centered, or Jelly-filled?
Someone once said to me that when it comes to promotions to, “Keep the main thing, the main thing.” Is not Jesus the main thing of Easter? Should our congregations be able to see Jesus clearly as they leave church on Easter Sunday? Is there anything we are doing as part of Easter that will demote Jesus to the minor leagues of our messages? What can we do, as Christians, to show our neighborhoods and communities that we care about their eternity even more than we care about their sweet tooth?
There is a place to bring the world into church in an effort to bring those of this world into church. However, I would caution taking “Materialistic-Worldly Easter” too far at the home of “Jesus Easter.” Our churches are, remind you, a place where we pray, a monument where we mourn, a building where we build disciples, a location where we learn, and a residence where we worship. When we come, we come for Jesus. I would hope that when we leave church this Easter, everyone in attendance would remember the reason for our salvation over the materialistic-worldly celebration.