April 12, 2023
As we bask in the glow of an Easter just passed, I find myself reflecting back on the various services we held to tell, reflect on, celebrate, and perhaps even experience the phases of the Easter story. And in general they seem a little different than our "normal" services, and not just in content. When many of us went through the How To Become A Purpose Driven Church study not too long ago, we noted that depending on which of the five purposes was emphasized the most, the culture of the faith community, and the "feel" of a given worship service, could differ widely. A service focused on education, for example, tended to stress Bible knowledge. I have to confess, that when I was a fairly new Christian, this was my favorite kind of service. I was hungry for knowledge, and the best sermons were those that inspired me to take notes in the margins of my Bible or in a notebook. It took me a while to realize that this is only one of five purposes of the church, and it needed to be kept in balance with the other purposes. One of these other purposes we often call worship. You can think of it as a time when we focus on getting to know the God, personally, that we learned about in our Education services and programs. It is analogous to getting to meet the actual person, in-person so to speak, rather than just reading their biography in a book. Easter seems to be that time in the church calendar, when it is most natural to tilt the focus toward worship - toward experiencing The Holy, rather than just reading about it. We make an attempt to "place ourselves" in the events and try harder to "feel" what it must have been like. We have the euphoria of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of Palm Sunday, the last supper and darkening mood of Maundy Thursday, the bleakness and seeming finality of Good Friday, followed by the rising hope engendered by the rising sun of Easter morning in the cemetery. If you have never been to an Easter sunrise service, I invite you to check out the recording of this year's sunrise service on our church YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZctxDt3L_7A&list=PLItY_MxcwEEkT24dl7XeDypIBrC3c9EsR&index=2 The first thing you notice is that it is not as dark as you might expect at that hour of the day. Yes, it is early - sunrise came officially at 6:28 am at our latitude, but was not fully visible at our location until about ten minutes after that. It was cold, however, and any breeze, that happened by, seemed a bit biting. And in the western sky there was the waning gibbous moon, with its lifeless pale blue hue, seemingly reminding us of the usual purpose of the cemetery in which we found ourselves. It seems to tell us in an experiential way that life without God is a cold and chilling prospect.
There was no gardener to meet us at the tomb, or graveside. But, as we prepared to worship, the birds began to greet us with their songs. The hoot of an owl gave way to the cheerful tweets of the morning songbirds. And as we joined their chorus, the blue pallor of the moon began to fade, as if to say, life is on its way.
And seemingly suddenly, the trees behind our pastor were lit up, and he began to have trouble reading the Scripture because of the bright light on his face. We turned around to see that the sun had finally made its way slightly above the horizon and was now sending out a shaft of bright, life-giving light through the gap between two buildings and right onto us in the cemetery.
Matthew 28: 2, 5-7 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. ... The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell the disciples: He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him."
By the time we had finished our last acapella hymn, the new sunlight had made it seem a warmer, more alive place than it was just a few minutes earlier. Hope seemed to have replaced the earlier dreariness, and as we turned to go, the sunlight on the opposite side of the church was passing through the church and lighting up the stained glass on our side in a blaze of color!
It somehow reminded me of the two disciples' reaction after meeting the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus.
Luke 24: 32 Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?
Following the service we went "quickly" inside to fellowship around a hearty breakfast prepared and served by the men's group. If we had been the disciples on that first Easter morn and the days following, we would have been asking the question, "now what?" A couple of us took a little detour on our way into the church to walk out to the front look up at our steeple. On the very top, there is a weather vane. On this particular morning at this early hour, it was ablaze in the sun - its gold leaf glowing brightly pointing the way, its "tail" giving the appearance of a roaring flame.
Matthew 28: 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
The banner on display in front of our church this Easter season, sums it up this way:
Hope Has Won!
Go quickly, and tell your "brothers!"
Your Brother in Christ,
Please also feel free to comment on this DeacoNote, or share a related story or thought of your own in the comments section below.
Warren J. Ayer, Jr.
Chairperson, Board of Deacons
United Church of Colchester