I’ve been thinking this week about the phenomena of Easter services as a cultural indicator or remnant of Christendom. Why do a rather large people attend an Easter service (and churches cater to these people) who otherwise have little to no interest in God? Certainly we want to seize the opportunity to preach the gospel to those in our communities who are open and accessible during this time (who otherwise would not have interest in God). But I can’t help but wonder if there is a serious disconnect or irony at play here.
I know that some attend Easter services because a friend or family member invited them. Others participate because they were visiting family and live out of town. But among these and others, could it be that the people who attend Easter services have already bought into a message that is alien to the good news of Easter?
The good news of Easter is the climax of God’s rescue plan and purpose in history to save a people for Himself. Easter is about resurrection from the dead. It is about victory over sin, death, hell, and Satan. It is about setting captives free and taking those who were enemies and making them sons. Easter is about a bloody sacrifice, divine wrath, eternal judgment, and an empty tomb. The gospel is good news that “it is finished” and “He is risen from the dead.”
But this is good news for bad people. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Sinners know who they are because they know who God is–and who they are in light of who God is. God is holy, righteous, and just. God must punish the guilty. God’s wrath is necessarily directed toward sin because His righteous character cannot tolerate anything contrary to His likeness. So what makes Easter so precious for Christians is because they know how holy God is, how sinful they are, and how amazing God’s grace is in giving His own Son as the propitiation and substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. They know the greatness of the “Great Exchange” (our sins placed on Christ and His righteousness imputed to us).
Going back to the mass of people who will attend Easter services this Lord’s Day, are these realities motivating them to celebrate Easter? If so, then should not the good news mean more than a proverbial hat-tip to the greatest sacrifice by the greatest person who ever lived? Should not a true appraisal of Easter be that we find our death in His death, our live in His life, and our resurrection and in His resurrection? Certainly union with Christ and the presence of His indwelling Spirit would magnify the resurrection of Christ so that Easter is an every day reality, should it not?
The reality is there are many people who have enough respect for being religious and enough access to some form of Christianity that it is becomes appropriate if not celebrated to have people recognize Easter who do not embrace Easter’s message . . . and therein lies the irony. On the one hand, there are people who know things are not right between them and God, but they don’t see themselves as bad enough that they need a bloody sacrifice to atone for the wrath of God against their sin. They merely need the hope that Easter brings or the kind of change that turning a new leaf symbolizes. On the other hand, there are people who have convinced themselves they are basically good, moral, and upstanding, and celebrating Easter improves their spiritual resumè so that God recognizes their religious performances as acceptable in His sight. They don’t see the need for imputed righteousness gifted as good news; as good people, they need good advice to make their lives better.
These stories represent a massive disconnect between the story of God culminating in Easter and the stories of Easter attenders who have good intentions to celebrate Easter. Could it be that the drama of deception has so worked in the minds of people who are not opposed to Easter but are far removed from the good news of Easter? In my opinion, this is the great challenge of preachers today. In one sense, churches should be excited and grateful that people in the community will come out to “celebrate Easter”. As Christendom fades, Easter being a cultural phenomena will decrease rapidly. But in another sense, churches and the pastors entrusted with the responsibility to preach to such a unique audience have a remarkable challenge before them. Those who have danced in the deception and failed to recognize the spiritual disconnect must know
that the hope of Easter is reserved for those who put no hope in themselves,
that the joy of Easter is experienced in the tearful owning of your sin as it is placed on bloody, crucified Lamb of God,
that the life of Easter is resurrected in those who know that apart from Christ, they are dead in sin.
Indeed, Easter is for the dead, not the good.
It is atonement for the rebels, not self-help for the moralist.
It is forgiveness for the rebel, not recognition for the religious.
It is salvation for the sinner, not self-preservation of the self-righteous.
May all who truly celebrate Easter be those who have entered into the story of redemption, reconciliation, and rescue because they have found in Jesus a perfect substitute, a pure sacrifice, and a powerful Savior who has triumphed over the grave as firstborn from the dead.