It is Easter Saturday, the last day of Holy Week. For many churchgoing folks, and most non-church folks, Holy Week is either a non-event or one to be judicially avoided.
Why? I suspect it’s because Holy Week is a downer for most of us.
Who wants to wallow in morose reminders of Jesus hanging on a cross? I know some church traditions and certainly many church members really get into the whole passion story of Jesus. (Check out chapters 14 and 15 of Mark.)
But “Good Friday Christians” sometimes never allow themselves to realize that joy is meant to follow sorrow.
On the other hand, there are other Christian traditions and people who choose to skip from Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem right into Easter Sunday, pretending Christ’s passion story never happened. “Palm-Sunday-toEaster Christians” may never allow themselves to realize that without sorrow, joy can be shallow and brittle.
So how was your Holy Week? Is it something you avoid or embrace passionately? How about somewhere in between?
Personally, I used to want to avoid Holy Week. Not an easy trick for a parish pastor.
Then I began to realize we don’t have to live Holy Week, only visit it for a while. If I have to choose between joy and self-flagellation, I’ll take self- … oops, I mean joy every time.
I have a 1995 “For Better or For Worse” comic strip taped on my computer monitor that reminds me of a healthy Holy Week rhythm. It’s written in the context of the strip’s trying family situation:
Mom: “It feels so good to laugh again.” Dad: “We’ve been a pretty serious bunch lately!” Daughter: “In life’s journey, the bags sure get heavy sometimes.” At that, Grandma puts her arm around her granddaughter’s shoulders and says: “Ah … but laughter’s the porter who helps us carry them!!” And she continues in the last panel, “Which reminds me - I have to pack!!” (Guess who will carry her baggage.)
Whether you are a determined observer or determined avoider of Holy Week, you probably have had your own recent experiences of sorrow. So I want to say one thing:
Tomorrow is Easter Sunday! Watch out for the joy!
Martin Luther wrote, “God is not a God of sadness, but the devil is. Christ is a God of joy. It is pleasing to the dear God whenever you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart.”
Perhaps Martin Luther learned something from early church fathers like Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa, who believed God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.
Believing the same thing, I suggested in this column last year that Easter should be celebrated on April 1 - April Fool’s Day. Reader response was clearly mixed, as you might guess.
I still think it’s a solid idea. But if you don’t like it, how about getting your church, or just a group of friends, to celebrate Easter Monday!
Easter Monday is a wonderful early church tradition passed onto us via various Orthodox Church traditions. On the day after Easter, early Christians would gather to tell jokes, play enjoyable pranks on one another, feast, sing, dance and have great fun.
They knew of God’s great practical joke on death and chose to celebrate the joke!
In recent years, this “joy-fill” tradition has been receiving new play in all kinds of churches, thanks in large measure to The Fellowship of Merry Christians, a collection of members held together by this modest mission: “To recapture the spirit of joy, humor, unity and healing power of the early Christians. We try to be merry more than twice a year.” (From the Fellowship’s monthly epistle, The Joyful Noiseletter, but found even more so in the hearts of its members.)
Here’s an Easter joy sample from The Joyful Noiseletter:
A lady was directing a children’s Easter play in her Catholic church. As she cast children in different roles, one boy insisted he wanted to be the rock in front of the garden tomb.
“Wouldn’t you like to have a speaking role?” she asked. But he wanted what he had asked for. The presentation went smoothly. Once again, she asked the boy why he wanted to play the rock. His smiled and beamed at her: “Oh, it felt so good to let Jesus out of the tomb.”
I hear many people mouth the words of a joyful faith, but I miss seeing the acts of joyful faith from a great many of them. During an Easter service, one little boy asked of his mother, “Why are all these people singing to their shoelaces?” Why indeed?
The boy knew intuitively what many adults often forget: Joy happens when you raise your eyes, lift your voice and sing/live boldly from the diaphragm. You can’t live with joy singing to your shoelaces, whether it’s Easter or even Good Friday!
Let’s learn from our children how to experience joyful faith. I close today’s invitation to watch out for the joy from the April 1996 issue of The Joyful Noiseletter:
A pastor was speaking to a group of second-graders about the Resurrection when one child asked, “What did Jesus say, right after he came out of the grave?”
The pastor explained that the Gospels don’t really tell us just what Jesus said. The hand of one little girl shot up. “I know what he said, Father,” she insisted. “And what was that?” the pastor asked. (With what I can only assume was an enthusiastic gesture) the girl exclaimed, “Tah-dah!”
I hope as you lift your eyes and stop singing to your shoelaces tomorrow, you may know deep inside that Jesus’ first (unrecorded) Easter words might have been “Tah-dah!”