Easter

A Letter to a Potential Easter Guest

Dear friend,

We are nearing the time of year when your nice aunt, neighbor, or someone else awkwardly and sheepishly invites you to go with them to church for Easter. First, I want to say thank you for being a kind enough person that someone would know that they could at least invite you to church without getting yelled at. I say thank you because I know that you may have a very good reason for not wanting to ever be associated with a church. Perhaps you have a personal story about how a church wronged you or hurt your family or someone else that you love. Maybe it’s not that personal and you have simply seen numerous atrocious acts that people have done in the name of the Christian faith. I can only imagine how hard it may be for you not to express your true feelings about Christianity to someone who you know holds the faith very close to them, so again I say thank you for being kind and patient with us.

Second, I want to apologize for the ways that the Church has hurt you and others that you have loved. I want to apologize for the times when you have received a message, whether explicit or implicit, from a Christian who pretty much told you that you were worthless and that they were better than you. I apologize for the times when you were brave enough to go to church, only to hear a message where outsiders (like you) were seen as the enemy, when you were just in search of a drop of grace to quench your weary soul.

Third, I want to invite you to try it again one more time. I want you to try it again because it truly is the place of hope for the world and for you. I know that you have good reasons for not going to church ever again, but know there is a well-spring of hope in the one who founded the Church. The beauty of Easter Sunday is that it is the one day when churches know that guests will be coming and so they will make an effort to make you feel welcome. It is also the day that almost all churches will focus mainly on telling the great story of our faith. That the God who made the world, and tragically saw it scarred and damaged by sin, didn’t abandon his creation, but sent his own Son into the mess of the world. This Son was sent not to change God’s mind about humanity, but to change humanity’s mind about God. God is not some distant moral monster who is always disappointed in us, but he is the one who entered into the mess of the world and took the evil of the world upon himself and defeated it on the cross and through his resurrection. For us, he is the one who continues to offer us new life and new beginnings no matter how many times we fail; he is the one who truly knows us and still loves us.

I know you may also have intellectual questions about Christianity, and now is just as a good of time as any to really investigate them. Ask the pastor/priest/minister to meet with you and to see if they could help you navigate some of your questions. Read some thoughtful people who wrestle with these tough questions. There is no airtight case for or against Christianity, but that does not mean that there are not good answers to your tough questions, because there are.

Also if you wonder if someone like “you” (whatever that means) would cause the church to topple over on itself as soon as you entered. Know that it is through Jesus Christ that we are all welcome, wherever you are coming from. (Full disclosure: I’ve been told that someone is buried in our cemetery because a church fell on her, but I’m 99% sure that resulted more from an engineering failure than from anything the woman ever did).

Here is my invitation: join the people of God as we remember and relive the most important moment in all of history. I truly think as you do this you will see that this story about God and Jesus, his Son, is the story of the whole world, and the story of your life. That he offers true hope and joy in the midst of a world that is often full of great pain and sadness.  

Grace and Peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

Rev. John Compton

Life After Easter

Easter Sundays are always really great. Everybody dresses up a little bit nicer. More people are in the pews, which makes the singing fill the whole sanctuary. Many have family in town and are eager to go home to a delicious Easter dinner.

 

As a minister it is also a tricky Sunday because you know that it is your one chance with some of those in attendance. I know that some of you who come on Easter will not come again until maybe Christmas Eve or the following year. With this being the case, I, along with many other pastors, always feel the need to talk about the historical truth of the resurrection. I said, as many others have, “Either the resurrection is true and it changes everything, or it is not true and none of this matters.” This is a true statement, but there is more to Easter and Christianity than that. As one writer put it, “The crowning evidence that Jesus was alive was not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.” I want to briefly look at the early church and how their lives gave evidence to the risen Lord and ponder what that means for us today.

 

“How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries” is the very long subtitle of a book authored by Rodney Stark. Stark wrote the book at a time when he would not have considered himself a Christian, though he does today. He wrote it as a sociologist using social sciences to show what the early church actually did that helped spread the movement.

 

One point that he highlights throughout the book is how Christianity grew because of its response to the chaos of living during the first three centuries. Some of the chaos is from two huge epidemics; one beginning in 165 A.D. and the other in 251 A.D. It is unclear about what exactly the diseases were, but they wiped out a third to a quarter of the entire population throughout the Roman empire. In response to these epidemics, Christians willingly helped those who were sick more often than their pagan neighbors. As a letter from bishop Dionysius dated around 260 says, “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy;... Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.”

 

Stark points out that because Christians believe that “God loves humanity, Christians cannot please God unless they love one another. Indeed, as God demonstrates his love through sacrifice, humans must demonstrate their love through sacrifice on behalf of one another…and [this love is] extended to those beyond the bonds of family and tribe.”

 

This care and love had the great effect of helping people survive these plagues. Stark highlights that “modern medical experts believe that conscientious nursing without any medications could cut the mortality rate by two-thirds or even more.” Stark then does some hypothetical math and shows that a city would go from a ratio of about 1 Christian to 249 pagans before the plagues to a ratio of 1 to 4 after them.

 

Stark makes this grand statement about the good that Christians brought to their communities in those first few centuries, “To cities filled with the homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity.”


The question for us is how will we respond to the chaos of living in the Capital District? How can we love sacrificially as God has loved us by giving up his Son for us?  Have we been more concerned with getting people ‘in here’ than caring for those outside of our walls?