Tis the season for grossly misguided organizational goals to make appearances on church Facebook pages, I suppose. But before you start “training your team” on how to smile during this years’ Easter service and ensure that your “CEO (Christmas & Easter Only) visitors” come back on April 27th, I would like to levy a plea to all the church leaders and members in cyberspace:
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO EXPLOIT EASTER FOR THE SAKE OF INSTITUTIONAL GLORY.
I know what a lot of you are thinking: “But Will, we NEEED more butts in the seats and more coin in the plates, and there are going to be so many people in church who might not come back for 8 more months unless “my team” follows them around the sanctuary, smiling, and refusing to break eye contact … these totally un-creepy behaviors simply have to be priority numero uno if we want to keep growing as a church!”
I hear you! Really, I do! But I want to invite you to take a step back for a moment and consider the following points:
- Institutional Advancement Isn’t A High Gospel Value – The founder of our faith, whose resurrection we will commemorate this Sunday, first had to go alone to the cross, betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends, turned over to the authorities by his own faith community, and finally executed by the state as a criminal. Whatever “institutional advancement” could be argued to have happened during Jesus’ ministry was totally annihilated by the cross–that central symbol of Christian faith. To suggest that the resurrection, which necessarily follows that execution, can rightfully be regarded as an opportunity for “marketing our business to the masses” is both literarily and theologically offensive.
- The Resurrection is Terrifying! – At least two of the four resurrection accounts from the Gospels conclude with people running away in terror (Mt. 28:8 & Mk 16:8), … and early Christian history proved that terror justified. Through the third century, and into the fourth (at which point the Christian faith was subsumed by the Roman Empire), communities who became convinced of the power of Jesus over death were derided at best … at worst they were persecuted and suffered crucifixion themselves. That is to say, for the first 300 years, the resurrection held terrifying implications for its adherents. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection certainly emboldened these men and women to live freely, and to die with hope … but not without pain and suffering. An Easter that is all joy and no terror makes for a great hallmark card, but it doesn’t quite ring true of the gospel stories that enlivened the Church then and can still enliven us today.
- The Church Does Not Exist Unto Itself – The Church, like all of the other Chosen People Of God, is a group of people called out for a purpose beyond the scope of its own existence. Abraham was blessed in order that his family would be a blessing, and all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him/them (Gen. 12:1-7). God’s self-gift to the whole world in the person of Jesus Christ (John 3:16) is taken up by the church (“the ‘body’ of Christ”) as its raison d’être. This suggests that its leaders and members shouldn’t be sitting back and waiting for people to join our club, but should be going out and living with the people (“incarnational”), loving even our most obnoxious of neighbors, and laying down our lives for one another. A comfy and/or powerful church that is unwilling to die to itself for the sake of the world, may be a lot of things to a lot of people … but it is not the incarnate body of Christ.
Now, I realize that this may be coming off a bit harsh … but it is not to say that the churches subscribing to the advice in the linked article are necessarily self-serving country clubs that happen to wave a Jesus flag. It is simply an observation of the substantial lack of anything even remotely resembling Christian theology among the “selling points” for the Christian Church provided here by one of its pastors.
If your church wants to spend some money to make your community aware that you will be celebrating Easter this Sunday, then by all means, do it, and do it well. If you want to encourage your congregation to smile joyfully rather than run or scream in terror, I think that’s probably a good choice. There is nothing offensive (and much positive) about embodying hospitality as the body of Christ. But don’t lose sight of the empty tomb, chasing extravagant visions of a full sanctuary. Don’t confuse a holy day, intended to empower people living under the real threat of sin, oppression, and death, for a convenient marketing opportunity. A truly holistic Easter-Faith can’t be sold with a smile or a pink marshmallow bunny … it can only be experienced … clung to for new life as our old one is taken–or given–away.
So leave the “big question” of how to get them back in the door to the restaurants and retail stores of the world. But let the church be gathered for worship that it may be sent out proclaiming, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!”
May you and all who worship alongside you this Sunday experience the love of God in Christ, crucified and risen, by the power of the Holy Spirit.