I’d mentioned last month that I was trying to figure out how to restructure my blogging activity. I came up with one thought, which was also confirmed by my friend, Doug, of writing on “deleted scenes” from sermons I would deliver. The idea is that there are several thoughts that I developed in preparation for my eventual sermon that, for various reasons, didn’t make it into the ‘final cut.’ Some of these ideas aren’t completely thought out so are a bit raw.
This blog is on the ideas that didn’t get into the Easter sermon.
Easter Isn’t About “Church”
One of the things that people get confused about Easter is that it’s a ‘holiday’ rather than a “holy day.” Easter, properly understood, is not truly about clothes, candy, or even “church.” For most Christians, they can see the first two points but get confused about the last: “Wadda mean, Easter isn’t about church?” Well, the first thing to get straight is that Christianity itself isn’t about church, it’s about Jesus. Once I put it that way, nobody’s going to disagree.
But here’s where Easter becomes “religious.” There are make-believe “Christians” who have no living relationship with Jesus (though they for bizarre reasons still call themselves “Christians”), who really believe that if they merely attend church on Christmas and Easter, that’s “good enough.” This is so mind-boggling to me that I don’t even know where to start. Christianity is not about attending church. While authentic Christians do attend church, their relationship to God is not about their church attendance but their relationship to the real savior, Jesus. So called “Twice-A-Year ‘Christians’” are not real Christians. That’s what I mean when I say that Easter is not about “church.”
There’s a lot of virtual ink spilled on the web about the pagan influences upon Easter. Several will spout the party line that Christians just glommed on to pagan springtime festivals and created Easter from whole cloth. Unfortunately, they just don’t have the historical facts. While it is true that the church took the then-nasty “Saturnalia” festival and redeemed it into a celebration of Jesus’ birth [see blog post on 10Dec2009], the exact opposite occurred with Resurrection Day.
Now it is clear that there are pagan Vernal Equinox celebrations. And it is also clear, in hind-sight, that some of the elements of those celebrations have made their way into the holiday we now know as Easter. As with Christmas, there are both pagan and Christian elements associated with the holiday. But no thoughtful Christian will say that the centrality of Easter lies in the Bunny, eggs, flowers, or mere “rebirth of nature.”
It is a clear fact when Jesus rose from his death by execution. It was early morning on the first day of the week after the Passover. The calendar for the Passover was very clear at that time and relied on the Vernal Equinox for its calculation. The date for Jesus’ resurrection is a very specific day of the week and season of the year. What has been annoying is to see a variety of pagan practices worm their way into this celebration. I am frequently tempted to refer to the pagan-secular part of the holiday as “Pseudo-Easter” and the authentic Christian celebration of Jesus’ resurrection as “Resurrection Day.”
One of the things I’m surprised still occurs in church life is the weird way people pray. they don’t pray as if Jesus were real. There are people who still pray using “King James” pronoun language: Thee, Thou, Thine, and other phrases. It is as if the people who pray in this way believe that unless they use these kinds of ‘special words,’ God will not be pleased with them. This is very much like the thinking behind magical incantations: if you say the right words, in the right way, in the proper sequence, then you can manipulate the spiritual world.
If we believe that Jesus is real, then it seems to me that should change our “prayer language.” Prayer, for the child of God, is not magical incantations but family talk. The pagans, who don’t know God as Father, have every reasonable expectation that God is not happy with them. Pagans live in fear of a capricious god who needs to be appeased and may Zap them if they do the least little thing wrong. Christians should see God as their Father and talk to them as such. That was the instruction that Jesus gave his disciples about their prayer life: “Our Father, who is in heaven…”
Never in my life did I ever approach my own father, Warren S. Messelt, with words like this: “Oh my father, that thou would live forever! I beseech thee for thy good grace to bestow upon me thine favor and that thou wouldest bless me with thy good gift. I petition thee that thou wouldest grant me thy blessing and permit me to operate thy automobile this evening that I mayest fellowship with my companions. So be it.” If my dad heard me say something like that, he’d be pretty ticked.
I think that our prayer life indicates our relationship with God. Now I am not advocating disrespectful prayer such as: “God-Dude – I need a car!” When Jesus said we should pray to God, we should address God respectfully. But to use language that is foreign to us is to slip into an attitude about prayer that is very un-Christian.