Good News, or t’Hell With Ya

Ever since my disappointing Christmas Eve service, I’ve been thinking about the C&E (exclusively Christmas and Easter attendees) crowd and what it might mean to tailor a service in a way that reaches them. What is the ministry of the church in the context of these services? The first, perfectly valid question is whether or not such a thing is even desirable; it’s possible to structure my Christmas and Easter services in a way that is meaningful for my congregation and myself, hold a unique, beautiful, inspiring service that rallies the base if you will, and go about my business. If visitors happen to come, they would see the church as we really are– no more, no less– and they can love it or hate it, but even if they love it, we won’t see them for another 51 weeks, and even if they hate it, we won’t miss their $2 in next year’s Christmas special offering. So screw ’em. Take it or leave it, but this is the Christmas Eve service I designed, and you chose to come, and next time you can either help plan the service or not complain. Oh, and if you could refrain from talking during the service, that’d be good.

Hey, it’s tempting. Especially given the garbage I dealt with this past Christmas.

But the other way to look at it is that we have a unique opportunity once or twice a year. We have a room full of people, most of whom won’t darken our doors again for another 3-9 months (depending on if it’s Christmas or Easter next!), who might be looking for a little joy or hope or invitation or message or welcome for whatever reason. Sure they might just be looking to put a checkmark in their list of things to do to make sure grandma’s happy, but maybe they’re looking for a bit more than that. Maybe they want to know about this love stuff those whackjob christians are always blathering about, and this is our one chance to get a portion of the message across. In short, the second way to view the C&E crowd is that we have a small opportunity for good old fashioned evangelism– that’s in the biblical sense of the word: telling the good news.

What is the good news? Well, at Christmas we do a pretty good job of telling it. God loves the world. The whole world. God is present in the world for the whole world. Whether you’re a member of the holy family and in on the secret, or a stinky poor shepherd or a foreign heathen astronomer or an alleluia-singing angel, the good news is here for you. Tidings of great joy for all human kind. Unto you, all of you, God is born. The message comes through for many people.

But the good news of Easter is different. In Christ, the power of death is broken– darkness and death are not the end, not the ultimate, not the final authority. Life wins! For those who believe, the resurrection of Christ means hope and joy eternal!

Did you catch that? For those who believe. The Easter message comes across to some non-churchy types as an inherently insular one. A Christian one. The one that separates the believers from the heathens. The one that celebrates the best news we’ve ever heard, while simultaneously thumbing our noses at– or worse, ignoring– the ones who are the least bit unsure whether or not they believe in hocus pocus resurrection tales. On a day when easily three quarters of the church falls into the category of those who are at least the least bit unsure.

I talked to some colleagues about it. Some of them agreed and said that Easter *was* an insular holiday and there was not much we could do about it. But other colleagues– and my own worship team, bless them– began brainstorming with me. How could we explain the Easter joy in a more inviting, inclusive way? How could we make it clearer that, as at Christmas, God’s love is universal, the blessing unqualified, the joy for all people? We talked about the people around whom the Easter story centers: Peter, who had turned his back on Jesus, afraid of what the resurrection might mean; the women at the tomb, confused and afraid and running away; the disciples, huddled together in fear, unsure of what to believe. Just as there are shepherds and magi at the manger, there are fear-filled women and doubting Thomases at the tomb (figuratively speaking on the latter, of course, as there was only one Thomas and he wasn’t at the tomb, ergo the doubting).

I’ve started working on a series of short monologues for the Easter service, attempting to tell the story of what’s happened through the eyes of the doubters, the fearful, the ones unsure of what has happened and what it means. My hope is that this will create a service that invites the doubters and fearful and unsure ones in the congregation to feel that this is their good news too. You may not know whether or not to believe it, or whether or not it’s good news, or whether or not it means anything in your life, but you’re not alone in that feeling. Plus, it’s a really fun creative outlet. Who knows, maybe I can publish it as a worship resource someday. I’m sure there are 8 million variations on this theme out there already, but I haven’t found ones I like that invites doubters to be welcomed and affirmed as they are, rather than on the condition of conversion. Which is actually what I think Easter is about. That separation from God and one another– call it sin, call it death, call it fear or anger or estrangement or darkness– that rift is healed for all of us, between all of us. It’s arrogance to assume that we can put qualifiers on so transcendent an action.

I know, I know, my little liberal heart runneth over.

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