Preparing for Easter

For forty years we subscribed to a daily newspaper, printed on paper and delivered to our home. Reading the paper was part of my morning routine. In recent years, we were aware of the decline in print newspapers. The papers started to get smaller, the articles were less edited and more prone to errors, the headlines had less connection to the content of the articles, and advertisements for products we didn’t need or want dominated the paper. We knew that many of our neighbors no longer received print newspapers as home after home removed the boxes for newspaper delivery.

Then, las summer, we went on a sabbatical and suspended newspaper delivery for three months. We never re-subscribed. We’ve made the switch to online news. I’ve even been known to sit with an iPad at the breakfast table.

Other print media are starting to fade from our live as well. We no longer keep an unabridged dictionary near our dining table. Questions about spelling, grammar or meaning of words are now resolved through the use of our cell phones. We are sorting out our library and reducing the number of books and I am reading more and more on the iPad. We don’t expect to eliminate books from our lives and we won’ stop making regular visits to the library, but we are aware that things are changing.

My morning routine now involves several different newspapers from around the world. However, since I am not a big fan of pay walls and I haven’t yet subscribed to any digital newspapers, my consumption of news from the US is mainly in the form of reading headlines and one or two sentence article summaries. The phenomenon of pay walls seems to be a feature of US newspapers. I find myself reading more and more articles on BBC and fewer from American news sources because I don’t want to have to pay. It is a silly and inconsistent argument, as I was willing to pay for a print newspaper.

However, it is definitely the case that I am getting an incomplete survey of the news in my current pattern. I read headlines, which I have found are not always good indicators of the genuine content of articles. I read articles from BBC News, which, like all news sources, presents from a particular viewpoint. I read articles from other sources as well. NPR doesn’t have a paywall. But I read fewer from major American Newspapers such as the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune or New York times.

If you stick to the headlines only approach, you won’t learn much about Holy Saturday. It is, in the Christian Tradition a day of vigil. A day to wait. A day on which there are no special services. After a week of daily services, we have nothing scheduled at the church until the Great Vigil, which begins in our congregation at 6:30, moved up earlier from the traditional sunset start time for convenience. The group gathered for that recognition will be small. Most of our members will be at home, planning to attend services on Easter morning. I admit that I am looking forward to the somewhat slower pace of the day. I still have a significant list of items to do, but there should be a mid day break and maybe enough time for a nap.

I think that the headlines only version of Christianity these days actually skips from Palm Sunday and goes directly to Easter without any of the storytelling and worship that lies in the middle of Holy Week. I’m sure that there are good and faithful members of our congregation whose public observances are reserved to Sundays and who feel little connection to the more somber midweek services.

There is an even more brief version of Christianity. We sometimes call them CE Christians. There are a few folks that we see only at Christmas and Easter. That always reminds me of the joke about the man who complained to the pastor that one of the reasons he didn’t come to church more often was that the music was so repetitive. The pastor pressed him, saying, what do you mean? The man replied that they always sing the same hymns when he comes to church. “Every time I go to church they sing one of two hymns!” “What hymns are they?” “It’s either Silent Night, or Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”

The natural response to the joke is to want to say to the man, “Well, you should come to church more often.”

Using the analogy of newspaper headlines, however, I’d like to suggest a different approach. Just as headlines don’t give an accurate picture of the depth of the articles, festival Sundays don’t give a full picture of the life of the church. The challenge for me as a pastor and preacher is how I make the message and the quality of worship on Easter significant and meaningful enough to communicate the gospel to those who don’t attend regularly. What if my sermon tomorrow is the only exposure some people get to the church? How can I say words that are meaningful and invitational at the same time? It is possible that someone who is attending our congregation might have an experience that makes that person want to attend more often and find out more about the life of our church.

I confess that the big occasions aren’t my favorite worship services. For much of my career I have sort of dreaded Easter. I like the joy of celebrating the resurrection. But i also know that it is nearly possible for someone to understand such a complex reality as resurrection from a single worship experience. Many people think that resurrection is something like resuscitation or immortality. They don’t really make the connection between the harsh reality of death and the deep power of Easter and they aren’t in a mood for an extended lecture on the nature of resurrection when they come to church.

So today is also a day of re-thinking my words for tomorrow and choosing carefully what I will say.

When there are some people who read only the headlines, the least we can do is to make the headlines more clear and accurate.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!