Many congregations that haven’t celebrated Easter in person since 2019 are relishing the joy of returning to the comforts of pre-pandemic church life. But Ann Michel of the Lewis Center staff says we can’t allow our Easter celebrations to divert attention from the challenge of renewing the church. Drawing on the biblical narrative, she writes that Easter is not an end point but rather a call to action.
Easter is the most joyous occasion of the church year. We shout Halleluiah. We belt out the glorious hymns of the day. And then, humming a tune assuring us that “the strife is over, the battle won,” we happily head home to our ham suppers and look forward to doing it all again next year.
Caught up in a celebratory mood, it’s easy to forget that in the biblical narrative, the resurrection isn’t the end of the story. In fact, the truly hard work was just beginning for those disciples thrust into the leadership of the nascent church movement. Their initial reaction to the empty tomb was not joy, but rather confusion and perplexity. And as they came to understand the true nature of Christ’s resurrection, their sincere joy came with tremendous uncertainty, responsibility, and risk.
This year, Easter comes at a time when COVID-19 restrictions are loosening. Many congregations that haven’t celebrated Easter in person since 2019 are relishing the joy of returning to their familiar worship spaces and practices. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, we are all too ready to proclaim the battle won and get back to the comforts of pre-pandemic church life. But the reality is that the truly hard work is just beginning, just as it was for those earliest disciples.
A season of challenge and opportunity
We are in a season of great challenge, but also great opportunity. Our two-year struggle through the pandemic laid bare the points where our ministries were rigid, vulnerable, and out of sync with the times. But is also awakened church leaders to the potential of ministry in the digital sphere, the opportunity to reimagine stagnant programs, and the enduring power of the Gospel in the face of disruption, confusion, and perplexity. Many have caught a glimpse of a new future. They have demonstrated a surprising ability to adapt in the face of radically changing circumstances. And they can imagine a hopeful future, even if only through a glass dimly. Such leaders know that the way forward is not backward facing.
And if we need a playbook on adaptive change in the midst of unexpected circumstances, we need only follow the journey of the first century church through the book of Acts. For the sake of their mission, those early leaders learned to compromise, to set aside their own customs and cultural practices, and to approach nonbelievers on their own terms. And so must we.
To proclaim the resurrection is to proclaim the possibility of change.
There is much we do not understand about the profound miracle of resurrection. But one thing we know for sure is that resurrection involves transformation. Scripture reveals that things look different on the other side of the resurrection. In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene does not recognize the risen Jesus. She mistakes him for the gardener. In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples on the road to Emmaus also do not recognize Jesus. They believe him to be a stranger. Things appear to be different after the resurrection because they are different. Jesus clued us in to this when he revealed to the Sadducees that children of the resurrection neither marry nor are given in marriage. Paul explains that in the resurrection our perishable physical bodies will be raised as imperishable, spiritual bodies. Resurrection affords us new ways of seeing and new ways of being.
The symbols we associate with the celebration of Easter — green shoots, budding flowers, baby chicks — remind us that, in God’s universe, life renews itself. In this season of resurrection, let us seek the green growing edges of new life within our communities, our churches, and in the lives of the faithful, knowing that God has designed all living things, including the body of Christ, for growth and renewal. Let us approach Easter not as an end point but as a call to action, for to proclaim resurrection hope is to affirm the possibility of change. “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:51) May it be so in Christ’s body, the church!
- 4 Truths About Ministry Revealed by the Pandemic by Tom Berlin
- Resurrection Hope and the Response to COVID-19 by Ann A. Michel
- How a Creative, Justice-Oriented Stations of the Cross Called a Community to Action by Jessica L. Anschutz