The Work of the People
He Is Risen … Risen Indeed! … So What?
In just a few short weeks we will again gather on Easter Sunday to celebrate our Lord, Jesus Christ and commemorate his resurrection from the dead. Our congregants may be wearing their Spring best, possibly some flowers, and don’t forget the kids in the bow-ties and bonnets! We will greet one another saying “He is risen!” and answer “He is risen indeed!” Our songs will be sung, His story will be told – and then my seemingly irreverent and inappropriate question: So what? Now don’t get me wrong - I believe! Furthermore, I believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is pivotal, powerful and transforming! But as we once again approach Easter, will we plan our worship events to give information? Or will we share that transforming resurrection power?
I suspect that not too many years ago the story of a man beaten, bloodied, bruised and murdered would have been a pretty shocking story. For that story to continue and prove that the man came back to life would be all the more shocking … and impacting. But, sadly, today it is not – not on its own, not by itself.
Our sensate entertainment culture tells again and again stories of immortal characters and their powers. These books, movies, and video games (etc.) span from vampires and superheroes to zombies, aliens, magicians and wizards. They further expand to include love stories beyond death (with ghosts, through time travel, and other temporal or character variations). Even my beloved Star Trek – the Next Generation is littered with characters, good and bad, that are labeled as immortal, omniscient, and all powerful. We have people in our churches each and every week who may better understand the love story in the Twilight series than the one in the gospels. They would rather dress up and be part of their city’s “Zombie Walk” than to be a part of a regular Sunday service. Furthermore, belief or interest in some of these things seems, in today’s culture, to qualify someone as being a “spiritual person”.
If telling the Easter story is not, in and of itself, enough, then asking the question I propose may help us to make this Easter different. Jesus is/has risen from the dead … so what? Ask the question out loud. Ask it of your staff and board members. We know the theological answers – but what does it mean to you personally? I posed the question to students in one of my MVNU classes and asked them to respond “personal” not “textbook” answers. One student answered: “Christ's resurrection proves that He is the Son of God. His dying on the cross does not prove His deity, but His rising from the dead does. Also, 1 Corinthians 15:17 says, ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.’" Another student stated, “Because I know that the same God who overcame death can help me to overcome anything that I may face in life.”
Have you ever been to an Easter service that was more about Christ’s death than the empty tomb? The two certainly go together in bringing about God’s salvation narrative, but we often seem more connected with the story of the cross. Is it possible that we are much more comfortable with Christ’s pain, suffering and death than with His victory? In some ways it is no wonder. It is what we have taught by default. Our resources tell us much about our beliefs. Most of our movies, pageants, cantatas, and programs give major emphasis to the passion of Christ adding a short resurrection “end cap”. Likewise, it is much easier to find songs about the cross than the resurrection. Just a moment ago I did a search on CCLI’s SongSelect database. Searching with the word “cross” yielded 12,248 song options. Searching with the word “resurrection” yielded 978! I searched again using the word “Easter” and the number increased only to 1,060. Are we more in tune with the price paid for our sins than with the victorious and abundant life that comes through Christ’s defeat of sin, death, and grave? The debt had to be paid and thank God that it was through Christ! But that price was paid so that we could live out freedom and victory in Christ! In the LIVING Christ!
So, I encourage you to ask the important questions: Why do we celebrate? Why is this important – to me? Without rewriting the Gaither favorite, complete the sentence: “Because He lives, I …” When our textbook answers are out of the way and we know WHY the resurrection matters - we then are able to plan our services not proclaiming a headline (Christ is risen) but with a purpose (Because Christ is risen…). Let’s make this season more than one of telling the story and giving information. Let’s be creative and make it one for people to experience new life.
Where do we find people “dead”? The obvious answer is “dead in sin” – but also in the wake of sin. Some people have the life squeezed out of them by family hurts, financial/job/economic pressures, some from addictive strongholds, and some from spiritual complacency and boredom. Do I believe that the power of Jesus’ resurrection can provide the power to resurrect relationships? Heal bodies and minds? Revive a dying church or a hurting people? Bring new wholeness to those grieving from the losses of sickness and war?
Here’s a planning tip for this Easter: Plan the service “backward” with the question “what do I want to happen after we have proclaimed the message?” and then point everything in the service at that target. While we tell the story of Jesus – tell the stories of people in your congregation who have experienced “new life” through salvation, healing, restored relationships or in some other way this year. Create an environment that leaves the visitor saying, “I need that power –part of me is dead and I want to live again!” Our message of eternal life isn’t just for later in the after life – it is also to live to the fullest right now!
In a world that is full of pointless, time-wasting, energy stealing activities – Easter Sunday shouldn’t be one of them. Maybe I have asked more questions than offered help, but I believe our WHY? question helps us guide the WHAT SHOULD WE DO? question. Jesus IS different than the vampires, superheroes, aliens, zombies and ghosts that are “worshipped” in today’s entertainment culture. With God’s help, we have a chance of passionately proclaiming Christ and His resurrection power and offering transformation to those who will be with us this Easter. Let’s make it count!
Adjunct Faculty Mount Vernon Nazarene University
Worship Arts Pastor, First Church of the Nazarene, Mount Vernon, Ohio