I don’t know about you but I tend to have memories based around holidays. My memory isn’t very good so maybe this is my brain’s way of making something stick. Like word association. Easter = (insert memory here!). My family and I made a out-of-province move over Easter one year. My first marriage ended right around Easter. I went out with Pete for the first time on Good Friday evening (no, it wasn’t the same year). I found out I was pregnant with my twins another Easter weekend. Easter also brings me memories of Easter egg hunts, sunrise services, family gatherings, and traditional Mennonite dishes at an Easter Sunday lunch.
And church. Always church.
I loved going to church at Easter. First a Good Friday service. Somber and reflective. Taking communion and really remembering Jesus’s sacrifice. A friend I knew decades ago told me that she couldn’t get through a communion service without crying. She had it right. I am quick to forget how much, how very much, it cost Jesus when He allowed Himself to take the punishment for my sin. When He became the sacrificial lamb, without stain or blemish, for everyone. I need to remember. Remembering makes me that much more thankful. More grateful. It makes me more aware of God’s astonishing grace.
Church on Easter Sunday was a celebration. A victory over death. The enemy thought he had won. But God prevailed. And He gave us hope. I love the old hymns that celebrate Jesus’s resurrection. His victory. The music is probably my favourite part of Easter. Maybe not those old-fashioned choir cantatas. But songs like “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” or “Because He Lives”. In the church I grew up in they were always sung in 4-part harmony with great enthusiasm.
I hope I never forget the service I attended on Good Friday of 2011. The twins were only 3 and there wasn’t the benefit of a nursery that morning so Pete volunteered to stay home and look after them. Actually, all the kids stayed home. Except for Arlynne. She and I were going to church.
Arlynne loved church so this was nothing out of the ordinary for her to want to go. At the time we were attending a church where they had the same service at multiple times over the Easter weekend. We knew we would be attending there later during the weekend so we decided to attend her friend’s church. The church where Arlynne went to youth.
First of all, it was difficult not to notice that the church was packed full. Thankfully there was some room beside Arlynne’s friend and her mom so we were able to get a seat. I don’t remember many details of that service. I know I enjoyed it. But what really stuck out in my mind was the baptisms it included. The pastor gave an inspiring message and then a number of people came forward to be baptized. The atmosphere became even more jubilant. The band was playing as the worship pastor lead choruses of celebration. Every time that someone came out of the water they were met with applause and cheers. It was reminiscent of a sporting event!
We sang and cheered until we were hoarse that morning. Then, after everyone who had planned on being baptized had had his or her turn, the pastor gave anyone the chance to be baptized. I think there were more than 50 people baptized that morning. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It made me think of the church in Acts when all someone had to do was confess faith in Christ and he or she could be baptized. There were no classes. No prerequisites. Just simple faith. It was incredibly blessing to witness. And Arlynne and I were experiencing it together. That made it special, too. As they played Tim Hughes’ song “Happy Day”, I remembered Arlynne’s baptism the summer before. They had played that song then also. Her friend told me later that she and Arlynne were dancing to that song backstage that morning. They were so happy.
We started attending this church as soon as Arlynne died. We had had her funeral there. I felt connected. I hadn’t felt that at the last one. So we stayed.
A few weeks ago, one of the pastors at church announced that they would be having the same service at 7 different times on Easter weekend, including Good Friday. And I was not happy. I like tradition. I like going to church on Good Friday and having a different experience then any other time all year. Even though it wasn’t the somber experience of my childhood, it was still unique. Special. And I looked forward to it every year.
I was listening to a Christian radio station the other day. The host was at a conference for church leadership. He was interviewing a pastor and they were talking about how church is changing. Church is trying to be more relevant. More “seeker-friendly”. The pastor was talking about how he has had to move his congregation in a new direction. He said he loved the people in his church and it hurt him to see them mourn the changes in the church. Mourning.
I never heard it described in this way before. I have seen people I care about leave churches they have spent decades in because the church was moving in a different direction than they wanted to go. But I never thought about it as mourning before. And it is.
I am sad that church has to change. I am sad that people get disappointed and leave. I am sad that church can sometimes become about a math game. Rousing worship + carefully timed inspiration message = Church Success. I am sad that Christians are leaving because they aren’t getting what they need to walk through the really tough stuff in life.
I can forget how blessed I am. Living in Canada, I can walk into any of a number of churches and I don’t have to be afraid. I am not going to suffer any of the persecution that thousands of Christians around the world do. Christians are facing violence, loss of property and even death in 40 to 60 different countries in the world because of their faith. My brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering for their faith. Yet I get upset when they change the program. It makes me feel very petty. Ungrateful. Hardened.
And church stops being about a circle of people of common faith. People who love God and want to serve Him. It becomes something outside of what God planned. It becomes about me and my comfort and not about Him.
I started writing this post on the weekend. Then I went to church on Palm Sunday. It wasn’t the old-time service that I am used to with a choir and palm branches. It was made up of modern music and 2 early church sacraments — Communion and baptism. As I expressed above, Communion can be a very sombre experience but this time it wasn’t. It was a celebration of what Jesus did for us. And that is worth celebrating. Baptism was the expression of faith that it should be. For some it was planned. For some it was spontaneous, just like in the early church. For everyone who was baptized it was a joyful declaration of new life in Christ. And the joy spread to everyone who was witnessing it. It truly was a celebration of our Amazing God.
What I really realized through my mourning was that no matter how church changes I need to love God with everything I am. I can sing hymns or I can sing choruses. But I need to point others to my Saviour whether they make it to the big building on Scott Street or not.
What I realized through my mourning is that I should be incredibly grateful to live where I do. I don’t suffer for my faith right now. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t. Times are coming when I may have to suffer for what I believe. Could I do what other Christians around the world have to? Would I willingly suffer for my faith? It scares me. But I want to. I pray that He will strengthen me. That I will remain faithful. He suffered so much for me. He died for me. I would be ashamed if I could not endure persecution for Him.
I don’t know what the future holds. The Bible says that Jesus will return for His Bride. His church. I hope Jesus comes back before this life gets much harder than it already has been. But He might not. Regardless, I know that my Father God is with me. And after all this, after everything this life brings, there is something coming that far surpasses this. There is hope. Hope of Heaven. Where there will be no more pain. No more suffering. No more tears. I just need to remember.
I can hardly wait.