American Easter: A letter to Easter-only churchgoers.
I sent a draft of this to my sister, Jaclyn. She said it made her cry, and she said you have to read it to the end.
Easter Sunday afternoon, I wrote a Facebook post that said, “Happy ‘never see them again’ Sunday.”
I shouldn’t have written that, especially in that way. I had some family quickly point that fact out. It was written out of a deep-seeded frustration. I’m not saying that makes it right, but today I’m going to explain from where that frustration is coming.
Usually, I try to write on some general Christian principle and speak for a larger group. Today, I’m just writing what I, Klinton Silvey, think and what I would like to say to those who maybe attend church once or twice a year for what are sure to be various motivations. Others in the Christian community might agree, but I don’t know for sure, you’ll have to ask them. Here goes:
In some ways, I dread Easter Sunday. My attitude about it generally stinks. Let me tell you three reasons why I don’t dread Easter Sunday:
1. If families want to dress a little bit nicer and match and take pictures, that is a fine thing to do. It’s fun. It’s OK to have fun and have a nice family photo. No problem there.
2. If churches want to do some extra music or decorate just a little more or do something different simply because it is Easter, which is directly targeted toward what we believe to be the most significant event in history, that’s great. Go for it. Celebrate. You ought to celebrate.
3. I am not upset that you, the unsure/unbelieving/visiting/anything, came to church as if it is some exclusive club meeting and you’re messing it up. I want people to come to church anytime and with any motivation.
As far as I can see, the three points above pretty much sum up the American Easter experience, and taken piecemeal, it would seem that there is no reason I should be upset.
But I am upset. I’m upset because I feel like a great many people leave the Easter service believing something that doesn’t make any sense at all, and that belief goes something like this:
“Jesus is more than great guy. He is God-incarnate. He even rose from the dead to save the world from sin. This is a good thing. I’m glad I came to church to acknowledge it with all of these other people, it makes me feel good,” — this is the first part of the belief that upsets me, and I believe all of it to be true.
But when those beliefs are combined with an attitude that, without using words, communicates an idea such as, “I’ll be back next year to celebrate these important historical and/or at least culturally important events. But until then, I’ll continue to live without thinking much about it. I won’t really let it affect my life.”
Those two ideas put together are a belief system that says, “Easter is important, but it isn’t important enough to change my life,” and this is a belief that I fear many have, and it makes me incredibly sad and frustrated. And I am afraid it is perpetuated and enabled by the American cultural phenomenon that is Easter.
C.S. Lewis said it as well as anyone, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
If Jesus didn’t prove he was divine by rising from the dead, then there really is no reason to take him any more seriously than you take yourself. He was just a man; actually, he would have been a loon who claimed to be God.
If Jesus really did literally, physically rise from the dead, it makes no sense to simply acknowledge that once a year as a holiday. To say that you believe in the resurrection and then live as if it doesn’t matter is illogical, and the Christian faith is not meant to be casual. It only makes sense to take very seriously everything that Jesus taught.
If I were to ask you what you would say if faced with the kind of choice many Kenyan college students just faced of denying Christ or death, I suspect a surprising number might say, “death.” But Jesus taught that to be his disciple means to die to yourself daily and surrender your life to his will. Why would you say you would choose to die for Christ but you do not choose to live for him now?
In America, it is culturally very easy to take up the label of “Christian” to please your family or feel good about your moral standing with God without actually knowing and following him with your life.
I have a therapist friend who likes to say,”Believe whatever it is you believe with utter conviction, even unto death.” He’s right, you need to decide what you really believe and live accordingly. Don’t be fooled into thinking there is middle ground because that just means that what you actually believe is that who Jesus is and what he said doesn’t actually matter.
When I wrote, “Happy ‘never see them again’ Sunday,” it was sarcasm out of frustration. Please don’t make my joke a reality.
If you do make it a reality, I hope your motivation is because when you heard the gospel at church, it made you very uncomfortable because you felt like there was something you ought to do with that information and church became a scary place. If that is the case, I think you’ll give in to God eventually and start looking for a community of believers. At least I hope so.
If you were a casual Easter-attender, please don’t let your life make a travesty, a farce, of the gospel.
I have had more than one person tell me I ought to be happy that you came to church at least once. I have been told I should be more positive as if people score points with God by coming to church. Here is why being more positive is hard: if you came as a casual Christian/non-believer and left as a happier, more encouraged casual Christian/non-believer, then I am sad that you came because you might be further from the truth of the gospel than when you entered.
However, if a “seed” was planted in your heart that at least has you thinking, then I am glad you came. What will make me sad is if that seed goes untended.
Your Christian friends like me are weak. We might be too afraid of being “pushy” to follow up with you about the sermon or invite you back. If you attended church on Easter Sunday and have questions, please forgive our weakness and ask us. Ask me. If you’re reading this, then my contact information should be easy to find.