This post is not a lesson in hermeneutics, nor is it a lesson in homiletics.
Well, I guess it is. It might be. It’s about how we worship, and about the opportunities for worship (or lack thereof) which we afford people.
A week from Sunday, almost all American Christians will be celebrating Easter: more than usual, in fact, since this is one of those rare years when Greek Orthodox Easter and “Western” Easter fall on the same Sunday (we use different calendars to calculate the date of Easter, but they occasionally coincide). Only the most hardcore Puritan-types and the various sects that don’t celebrate holidays of any kind will not be observing Easter. But some will be doing so out of context. Out of the blue, here’s the Resurrection! No point of reference, no back-story, no follow-up. Boom. Chocolate Bunny. Peeps. New Suit (or Dress). Pictures. Then it’s over, until next year. It’s worse than the no-Advent, no-Epiphany Christmas, because at least there is some sort of build-up to the essentially secularized Christmas that most evangelicals observe. Sure, that build-up consists of nonstop shopping, but many nevertheless try to make Jesus “the reason for the season.”
Easter? Not so much. That’s because many eschew Lent as a “Catholic thing,” never mind that it’s the heritage of the whole church, not just a part of it. And since Holy Week is the culmination of Lent, little, if any, attention is given to it either. (The Baptist college I attended, for example, had classes on Good Friday. They still do, as far as I know.) So worshipers get a Resurrection with no Triumphal Entry, no Last Supper, no Gethsemane, no arrest, no trial, and worst of all, no Cross.
I have seen the unfortunate result of this. In my years as a Bible teacher in a Christian school, I observed every year that it was the children from non-liturgical backgrounds who were the most befogged about the Story of Redemption. The Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist (for the most part) students could narrate the Story and knew how the pieces fit together. The Baptists and (sadly) Presbyterian students (with the noted exception of the few PCUSA students we had in our PCA-run school) knew random stories of Jesus, not The Story of Jesus. That’s because they did not live the Story, whereas their more liturgical classmates did, year after year. The rhythm of that Story had become a part of them.
So while, at first glance, the types of worship experiences we offer or deny our people may not seem to have anything to do with either hermeneutics or homiletics, they do. Our gathered worship is one of the most powerful means we have of communicating the Story. Lex orandi lex credendi: the law of prayer is the law of belief. The way we worship shapes what we believe about God. It shapes our understanding of the Story, or confirms us in our ignorance of it.
This Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. Not “Easter Week”: that begins on Easter Sunday (Sunday is the first day of the week, not the last). Holy Week begins with the Triumphal Entry of Jesus unto Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) and includes the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest and trial of Jesus (all of which occurred on Maundy Thursday), the Crucifixion and Death of Christ (Good Friday), and Jesus’ lifeless body lying in the tomb (Holy Saturday). I do not, cannot comprehend how those who plan worship can, in good conscience, just let Easter pop out of the ground (as it were) and then disappear. What can that do, other than confuse people?
What is your church doing to mark the events of the Story in Holy Week?
Context, context, context.