Easter is a big deal for churches, and rightly so.
Recently, my Facebook feed has blown up with advertisements from local churches trying to entice people to attend their Easter services. Seeing as Easter is often one of only two times in a year that many people attend a church, many churches want to make the most of it. So in order to draw people in, there are all kinds of promotions and gimmicks that churches use. Here are a couple examples from my Facebook feed:
Our Good Friday service is going to be EPIC! Huh. I can think of a lot of adjectives to describe a Good Friday service (such as serious, sober, somber, etc.), but "EPIC" isn't one of them.
This Easter, experience something different. Um, like what, exactly? Something other than the glory and power of the resurrection? No thanks.
Finally, one advertisement in my feed is for a church whose Easter service boasts 75,000 eggs | 4 Easter Bunnies | Princess Anna & Elsa | Ironman | Kaboom the Robot | Minions | and tons more! Well, you've definitely got my daughter's attention at the mention of Anna and Elsa, and although my son doesn't know who Ironman is, I'm sure he'd be excited when he saw him. That's quite a guest list, although one name is conspicuously absent. I'm sure you can guess who.
Let me be clear: I'm not trying to besmirch the reputation and work of other churches for their Easter services - on the contrary, I hope thousands of people are drawn and come and hear the gospel (assuming the gospel makes its way into the mix after Kaboom the Robot leaves the platform). Rather, I'm pointing out the apparent reality that the culture in general, and the church in specific, does not seem to be amazed by the glory of the resurrection anymore. It certainly seems that we don't think the resurrection of the Son of God is "enough" to draw people to church, and that is demonstrated by the gimmicks, themes, and marketing strategies that many churches employ in order to draw people. Instead, now it has to be the resurrection of the Son of God plus Minions, or the resurrection plus Ironman, or have the guarantee that our service will be "EPIC" in some way. What has happened?
I think there are two primary things that have happened that have caused our celebration of the resurrection to be lackluster, or to at least be ordinary enough that we have to dress it up with appearances by Disney princesses.
First, I think we've lost sight of the resurrection as an actual, historical event. Is it possible that we believe in the resurrection more so as a story rather than something that actually occurred? Let's be frank: most people have heard the resurrection story, and hear it year after year (and, at good churches, week after week). I think it's possible, and even likely, that the resurrection has become just another thing that we know by heart. And when we become familiar with a thing, its tendency to amaze us is diminished, and maybe even to the extent that we forget that Jesus actually, physically rose from the dead. Seriously. Jesus was dead - killed by God because of the sin of all those who would believe that he took upon himself. He was buried in a tomb and stayed there for three days. On the third day, his dead body was reanimated and he came alive again. It wasn't just his spirit that resurrected; it wasn't a symbolic resurrection; it was an actual, physical resurrection that involved his whole body. His heart started beating again; his brain began to once again send signals to his body. And unlike Lazarus and others who were raised to life from death - but died again later in life - Jesus still lives. He has never died again, and he is living at this very moment, as you read this, making intercession before the Father on behalf of all those who will trust in him (Hebrews 7.25). This isn't just a story. It's what actually happened, and is happening at this very moment. If you need pop culture icons to help you get excited about the reality of what took place at the resurrection (and what is taking place right now as a result), you may have lost sight of what the resurrection actually entails.
Second, I think we try to gussy up our Easter celebrations because we've lost sight of resurrection power. In Philippians 3 Paul talks about desperately wanting to know the power of the resurrection, and doing whatever it takes to get a taste of that power. What Paul means by the "power of his resurrection" is the ability to tap into the implications of what Jesus' resurrection accomplished. What did the resurrection accomplish? For one, it broke the power of sin. Death is the final enemy (1 Corinthians 15.26), the final and ultimate consequence of sin. By rising from the dead, Jesus proved that he has power over sin and its disastrous effects in our lives. This is what Paul saw as the resurrection power that he wanted a piece of: the ability to kill sin in his life and gain freedom from it and its horrible effects - both temporal and eternal. This freedom would not have been possible had Jesus not risen from the dead. No amount of effort, good behavior, positive thinking, or anything else can give you power over sin and its effects - only the resurrection of Christ can do that. So because Jesus rose from the dead, believers have power. Do I share Paul's desperation for tapping into that resurrection power?
For some reason, we have lost sight of these two realities: that of an actual, physical resurrection, and the power associated with it that is accessible by all believers. And so now, in order to motivate us to celebrate the resurrection, we need epic services with pop culture characters. My brothers and sisters, this should not be so.
This Easter I would urge you to put aside all of the external things that might draw your attention away from the glory of the resurrection and its power. Thankfully, at Riverview, we're not clever enough to come up with marketing slogans and gimmicks for our Easter service. We figure, Jesus rose from the dead, and that's more than enough reason to be excited.