Yesteryear’s calendar …
Easter Sunday, April 11, 1982 — Preach sunrise service, Pilot Knob Baptist Church.
John 20:15-15 – Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
That Easter sunrise service I preached 30 years ago didn’t use the text I just shared. (That morning the text was Philippians 3:7-11, focus on verse 10). But if I had an Easter message for 2012, the title, based on the above reading from the King James Version, would be something of a take-off on the reality music show, “The Voice.”
Growing up as a preacher’s kid, Easter was a big deal. Sure, it was the fancy-dress Sunday of the year, and the day when you saw people in church who you might be surprised to see in church. (No doubt they were surprised to see me, too.)
There were Easter eggs and a big meal, but nothing like the commercial exercise that accompanies Easter these days. I’m not sure I got an Easter basket as a kid, but I don’t feel slighted. Honestly, I didn’t understand the dyed eggs and what that had to do with Easter, because I knew that Easter Sunday was different – and it wasn’t about bunnies and eggs. I was taught from the earliest days that I can remember that Easter was a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. It was the one day and the one image – and empty tomb – that separated my faith from all others.
We might have attended or been part of some sunrise services, but I don’t recall starting that as a personal tradition until I was in high school, after my parents divorced and as I began finding my own way spiritually.
A friend and I sang regularly at the First Christian Church in Belle and I recall going there for one or two Easter sunrise services if only because the service was followed by Easter breakfast. By the time Kelly and I were married and had Kishia and Natasha, I was pastoring somewhere up until 2001. From 1992 to 2001, Easter sunrise service at Beulah Baptist Church just outside Belle was a dual breakfast feast and early service, just maybe not as early as sunrise. Easter Sunday.
The music, the attire, the sermon – everything just seemed a little extra special even if it was super formal; or early. Strange, I know, but some of the things I now miss most about my early childhood church experiences were the traditions, formality and structure of the church environment. I doubt I appreciated those elements at the time.
I don’t know what Easter traditions you hold dear. Perhaps none. I’ve got a number of atheist friends who scoff at Christians more on Easter than any other day. But I’m not swayed, sorry. Easter is real to me.
The empty tomb. The cross.
Some of the most vivid parts – in my mind – of the story of the passion of Christ:
– The rising tension in the upper room where Jesus and his disciples had the last supper. The knowing glance between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. The uneasy mix of sacred worship and nervous laughter as the disciples could sense something eternally profound was going to happen.
– Impulsive, knee-jerking Simon Peter, the one character with whom I most identify. “I will never leave you. I will never deny you!” Then the rooster crowing and the crushing conviction of betrayal, denial and abandonment – within just a few hours of the humble meal in the upper room.
– The risen Christ’s grace and forgiveness, extended to impulsive, knee-jerking Jodie J… I mean, Simon Peter.
– The unwritten account of the angels of Heaven prepared for battle, poised on the edge of Heaven, anxiously awaiting the Son’s call or for the Father to say, “Go get my son.” Instead … I imagine chaos among the heavenly host – “Hey, isn’t Someone going to stop this?” or “This can’t be happening!” – as they see Jesus betrayed, falsely accused, beaten, stripped, mocked – and nailed to a cross; all the while the Father weeps oceans of tears …
Then turns his back.
– The command from the Father to the angels on the third day: “Go get my son!”
– Mary Magdelene’s broken heart yet continued devotion. “Oh, where is his body? What have you done with it?” Pain so deep that it’s all she knew. Hopeless, exhausted, confused. Pain so deep that she literally couldn’t recognize the man.
Until … “Mary.”
The Good Shepherd knows my name. Does He know yours?
Set aside seven minutes for Ray Boltz’s video and song, “Watch the Lamb.” Please watch it. Let me know what you think. You only need a little over two minutes, but it’s not Easter without “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” My treat, brought to you by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.