On our way to church this morning, my wife Ana, who was born in Cuba, told me what she thought about the way Americans celebrate Easter when she came here as an eleven-year-old. “I thought it was gross. Everyone knows rabbits don’t lay eggs.” She came from a family that was not part of any church, although her parents did sometimes send the children to a local Catholic church. “But,” she said, “everyone in Cuba knew what Easter was about.” I wish that were true of America today.
The word Holiday comes from Holy Day. The most important holidays we celebrate began as Christian festivals that celebrated something important, such as the birth of Jesus. But, to our shame, they have become merely excuses for a party or a day off from work. The most important Holy Day of all, Resurrection Sunday has been trivialized to the point where most think it’s about the Easter Bunny, eggs that it did not lay, candy, and Easter egg hunts. Not only has the church at large not resisted this – it participates in it.
How many churches in your community have Easter egg hunts or celebrate with Easter bunnies and free candy? I know, it’s all about outreach. But can’t our outreach be done using truth rather than myths about Easter Bunnies? How would you feel if your pastor dressed up as Santa Claus to preach his Christmas sermon? It’s an old problem – how does the church influence the world without letting the world infiltrate the church?
During the week or so prior to Resurrection Sunday we hear people – Christians and non-believers alike – greeting one another with a cheery “Happy Easter.” Why do we say that? Because it’s a holiday, and we are used to prefacing holiday greetings with “happy.” “Happy Independence Day,” “Happy Thanksgiving,” and so on. And isn’t Easter a happy day?
I would argue that if we understand the Scripture, Easter isn’t about “Happy.” It’s about “Joy.” But aren’t they the same? No, they are not. We Christians talk a lot about the Peace, Love, and Joy that the Lord tells us about in Galatians 5:22. Many are not aware that Satan has a counterfeit for each.
The Bible says that false prophets will cry, “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. Satan’s counterfeit for peace is a lack of conflict. Most “love songs” are not about love at all. They’re about Satan’s counterfeit for love: lust. And the sneakiest counterfeit is the one where the devil convinces us that happiness is the same as joy.
Real Peace, Love, and Joy all come from within; they rise up from our relationship with Jesus. The counterfeits are dependent on external circumstances. That’s why believers can have real peace in the midst of war. That’s why Christians can love the unlovable. Christ loves them through us.
But I want to concentrate on the joy/happiness dichotomy. Happiness depends on things that happen around us. People are nice, we get an award, we pass a tough test – and we are happy. But what if bad things happen around or to us? Are we still happy? If you are a Christian, you can have real joy - no matter what is happening around you.
Over the last 40 years, I have been in many jails and prisons. They are grim places. But the jails where the apostles suffered would make today’s prisons look like a Holiday Inn. In Acts 16 we read that Paul and Silas were unjustly beaten and thrown in prison for healing a girl. But they sang praises to God in their prison cells. They didn’t sing because they were happy with their circumstances. They sang because they had joy welling up from within them.
I miss the Easter greet that has been heard among Christians in churches throughout the world for thousands of years. People would greet each other at Easter with the powerful words, “He is risen.” The response would be a joyful “He is risen, indeed!” Most Easter services I have attended in the last 50 years began with the pastor crying out, “He is risen!” and the church shouting in reply, “He is risen, indeed!!”
Using this greeting is much more than a tradition. The words “He is risen!” remind us of the joyous news we celebrate at Easter, that Jesus’ death was not in vain, and that He has the power to overcome death. Replying, “He is risen, indeed!” allows us to bear witness of this incredible truth with each other. “Happy Easter” doesn’t come close.
In researching this article I looked up “Easter Images” in my search engine. The top ten on all the searches but one all had either Easter Bunnies, eggs, or both. One had an image of a little girl in a flower patch (I’m not sure what that was supposed to symbolize). Not one had an image of Jesus, the cross of the Resurrection.
I know I may sound like an old guy longing for what was, but is no more. I know things change. But do we have to throw away all the old to make room for the new? Some churches make an attempt to occasionally include some of the old, beloved hymns that have been sung in the church for hundreds of years among the contemporary songs. But to have an Easter service that doesn’t include, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” is like having a Christmas service that didn’t include, “Joy to the World!” Since most who read this didn’t have the opportunity to join in singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” in your Easter service, I have included links below to two different versions that I think you will enjoy.
You may not realize this, but the church is in a culture war – and we are losing. Jesus has been replaced with a fat guy in a red suit, or a pink bunny, depending on the time of year. Bible clubs in schools have been replaced with Muslim prayer rooms where students can skip class to pray five times a day. The Pledge of Allegiance has been done away with in many schools because it contains the offensive word “God.”
We can’t make schools change policies. But we have allowed these things to happen because of our passivity. The church is supposed to be salt and light in the world. But it seems like the only influence many churches have is within their four walls.
And it’s our own fault. We have become so obsessed with being “relevant” that we have largely become irrelevant. If, in order to reach the world we have to become like the world, what difference will unbelievers see in us to make them want to become one of us?
Has your church fallen into the trap of becoming like the world? Ask yourself these questions. When is the last time you heard a sermon in your church calling out the sin of unmarried couples living together? Does your church fight for the rights of unborn children? What is your church’s position on homosexual marriage? I’m going to guess that most of you have never heard it articulated from the pulpit.
I’ve been a pastor for more than four decades. I oversee pastors, and I counsel pastors. I know what they fear. “If I say that living together unmarried is sin, a fourth of my church will leave.” “I avoid controversial subjects because I want to keep the peace.” “I can’t talk about homosexual sin because our church could lose its non-profit status.”
To the first I say, if you speak the truth in love, they will either become convicted and ask you to marry them, or they may leave. But by your silence on the subject, you are giving implicit approval of their sin.
To these second, I will quote Jesus. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt. 10:34b) We should always seek peace, but not at the cost of truth and pure doctrine.
To the third excuse, I can tell you that no church in the United States has ever lost its federal 501(c)3 status for what is taught in the church. It may come to that someday, but so what? If the only reason people give is to get a tax deduction, tell them to keep their money. God certainly doesn’t need it.
If Easter teaches us anything, it is that Christ rose from the dead so that we could also rise from our dead former selves to become a new person in Christ. What good does it do (except for ourselves) if we become new, but don’t do anything new? Believe it or not, Satan doesn’t care that much if you become a Christian. But he will come after you with all he has if you become an effective Christian.
Is the Church Relevant Today? https://stream.org/is-the-church-relevant/
Do Churches Need 50(c)3 Status? http://spofga.org/ten_commandments/2006/feb/church_info.php
He is Risen, Indeed! https://www.christianpost.com/news/he-is-risen-indeed.html
Christ is Risen – Indeed http://www.conservativetruth.org/article.php?id=4038
Beautiful Song Celebrating Christ’s Resurrection https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFEScKkKmvw
Don Francisco – “He’s Alive!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Lmv_xR6_q8
“Easter Song” by Keith Green (powerful!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M3_p2i6bH0
Christ the Lord is Risen Today! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XveIGmAUdkQ
Prestonwood Choir - Christ the Lord is Risen Today! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7o95WfCpopo&t=96s
Jesus is Risen Flash Mob – in Beirut, Lebanon! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvgWscw5Gbs