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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Easter Worship

Is Easter a big deal? Of course it is, we say. To say anything else would be unacceptable in church, obviously. Yes, Easter is a big deal. Do our lives show this?

What requires the most preparation? Christmas? Valentine's Day? Mother's Day? April 15? The end of school in June? The start of school in the fall? Thanksgiving? How much time and energy do you spend getting ready for Easter?

What gets you so excited that you think about it weeks and even months before it comes? (Again) Christmas? The Super Bowl? The NCAA men's basketball tournament? The opening of hunting season? A longed-for summer vacation to the beach? The release of a movie that's been anticipated for over a year? How much time prior to Easter do we spend thinking about Easter?

I know a guy who planned an event for April 8. He's really excited about this because he'll be seeing people he hasn't seen in a long time and it is going to be fun. I don't blame him for eagerly anticipating a reunion with people he loves. His event has nothing to do with church. He had no idea he was scheduling it on Easter Sunday. He saw April 8 - an open Sunday. Only after it was on the calendar and plans were made did someone say, "You know that's Easter, right?" If you asked him, he would say he considered himself a Christian.

I am not in a position to doubt whether or not someone is a Christian. But how can a Christian not know when Easter is? It happens because many people who earneslty want to live faithful lives do not think much about Easter except when it comes. We think about our individual salvation. Am I going to Heaven when I die? That's important to people. But for a lot of people very concerned about that question, Easter is peripheral, only to be considered on Easter Sunday. And then, hats, new suits, lillies, and spring time get as much consideration as worship. "Let's get through church so we can get to our big Easter dinner."

Church isn't somthing we "get through." Church is the gathering of God's people for the worship of God, fueled by the filling of the Holy Spirit, and with special attention given to the Risen Savior Jesus. Gathering with the church family to exalt the resurrected one is what it is all about. Anticipation for Easter begins on Ash Wednesday, lasts 46 days, heightens in energy on Palm Sunday, in tension on Maundy Thursday, and in darkness on Good Friday. Then it explodes with vibrant worship on Easter morning. For a person whose greatest life priority is to faithfully follow and worship Jesus, no other day matters as much as Easter.

How is this reflected in our lives? I propose that we approach Easter worship in such a way that on Easter day, both in the 6:30AM sunrise service and in the 11AM worship service, our worship is more intense, energetic, and explosively joyful than at any other time. How do we get to the point that worship is like that on Easter Sunday? I don't think we will ourselves to intense, energetic, explosively joyful worship. So how does it come?

First, we pray. Prayer takes on many forms and during Lent our repentence and confession are focused as we renew our faith and ask God to cleanse us and make us new. Ideally prayer begins on Ash Wednesday and leads up to Easter day. But, if you are reading this only a few days before Easter and haven't been praying up to Easter, then I suggest you begin now. Everyday from now until Easter Sunday, take 10-15 minutes in your home when it is quiet and dark. Light a candle. Gazing at the candle light, quiet your spirit. Lay your sins before God and receive the forgiveness you have in Christ. Lay your burdens our and ask Him to lift them. And ask the Lord to ready your heart for Easter.

Second, we read. There are many excellent books about Jesus and about the resurrection. Philip Yancey's "The Jesus I Never Knew" is a good look the Savior. N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope" is the best book on resurrection I have found. If you can, read a book about Jesus or specifically about his resurrection. Or, research Easter on the Internet. Of course doing this, you want to fact-check anything you read and if you have questions, you can contact Jonathan or Heather or me and we will help you understand what you're reading.

Third, worship. I recommend going to the website on Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and listening to the sermons of John Ortberg. Again, it's free and requires no log-in or password. Go to the archives and listen to his sermons from years past. And worship at our church. Even if you read this only days before Easter Sunday, if you come Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and pour your heart into the scriptures and songs and emotions of those nights, you'll be presenting yourself to God. The Holy Spirit will ready you to be fully present to God on Easter Sunday.

Fourth, invite. Treat Easter with such importance and excitement and anticipation that your friends know it matters because they hear you talking about it all the time. Invite those around you who do not have church homes to come with you on Easter Sunday.

I think through prayer, reading, worship, and invitation, we ready ourselves for the day that we glorify the resurrected one, Jesus, our Savior and Lord. Nothing matters as much as this in the life of one of his followers. If there is one thing we remember in this season of life, let it be Easter and our participation in it.

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