Dear Friends of Second Church,
Holy Week and Easter are a little more than two weeks away — and some of the church’s most powerful services are just ahead. Some are somber and thought-provoking; others are joyful and celebratory; each is distinctive and beautiful.
In particular, Palm Sunday and Easter are often inscribed in people’s memories from childhood, whether they worshipped in impressive city churches with organs three stories tall, small country churches where the flowers came from someone’s garden, or something in between.
Many in our pews for those Sundays remember family gatherings with cherished family members now many years gone, with church-going serving as just one part of an extended lesson in what it was to belong—to a community and to a family, as well as to God. For some, Easter began weeks ahead of time, when they went downtown to get a new suit or hat, and Easter only ended when the last car pulled out of the driveway, the dishes were put away, and the extra leaves of the dining room table were safely back in their corner of the pantry.
In fact, we know that many who will be with us in the next few weeks may come as very temporary, even one-time-only visitors, coming not so much to “encounter Jesus” or “celebrate the resurrection,” per se, but rather to remember what it felt like to sit next to their beloved grandmother, amid an atmosphere heavy with the scent of lilies and “Shalimar,” and who are joining us now all these years later simply to sing the hymns their grandmother knew and loved.
God bless them. Welcome.
Many of you will also be inviting family to join you who aren’t really sure how they feel about church, or what they might be seen as tacitly endorsing by being there.
Of course, we don’t want it to be that complicated, and we aren’t a “hard sell” kind of place. But that’s easy for us to say. If all they wish to do is come and sit and let their minds wander, God bless them. Welcome.
(And grace and peace to all those who decide, in the end, to stay home.)
Sometimes I worry that we who love churches see our great festivals as a chance for visitors to “get the message” instead of simply feel the love in, among, and through us.
Instead of celebrating God’s love, we’re more concerned with lifting up our own version of churchiness.
Along those lines, we Christians need to do a better job at showing that Worship isn’t something that we have to do (whether in general or according to some particular way) — it’s something that we get to do, and do according to however the Spirit may lead.
It’s not something any of us are born knowing how to do in any particular way. It’s something we come to do, mostly, just by doing it.
But we keep on doing it every week because, in some mysterious way, in doing it we are reminded of what is to belong to someone besides ourselves—most of all, to God.
So is it wrong for us to sit in the pews and remember our grandmother rather than Jesus?
In many ways, it’s a false choice.
Because as Jesus clearly understood, what belonging means for us and asks of us are important to decide. Their are implications — even consequences — to belonging. That is as it should be.
These are the weeks when God showed us most clearly that even death could not stop the power of love, and that in God, there is more than enough love for all of us.
These are the weeks when God showed most clearly that we all belong to Him, no matter what.
Sometimes we find our way to those lessons in a straightforward way, by hearing the Word, singing the old hymns, and praying with especially purposeful focus.
Sometimes it’s by remembering the lives of the saints we have known, who did those things so faithfully that their example still moves us, even in the midst of very different lives.
And so whatever it is that blossoms in someone’s heart and memory at Easter, or whatever it is that tells a passerby to turn the car into the parking lot and come to church, God bless it.
Come. You’re where you belong.
See you in church