Monday, March 20, 2017

My Easter Burden

Lent, Day 17.

Previously: For Now, Just Live, Go Ahead and Give Up Chocolate for Lent, Homebrewing Salvation

It all started with a story about Arby's.

It was my third Easter sermon as a pastor. I opened with a story about waiting at an Arby's drive-through. In those days my car had several bumper stickers on it, including a UCC one with an older saying, "To believe is to care, to care is to do."

A couple kids in the car behind me seemed to notice it, because they quickly scrawled a message on a piece of paper and held it up for me to see in my rearview mirror: "Satan is God."

I immediately knew they were only doing it for a reaction. Just two young guys having a laugh. I'd heard far worse from non-Christians trying to get a rise out of me, and my faith had been through far more challenging things.

That's why I used that experience in an Easter sermon. Because that note didn't surprise me, much the same way that the only thing left that could surprise the disciples when visiting the tomb would be the resurrection.

That sermon received such an overwhelmingly positive reaction that I've been trying to live up to it every Easter since. It's become the bar that I've judged every Easter sermon by. I ask myself every year: Is this as real as that one was? Will this connect as well as that one did? Will this stick with people the way that one seemed to?

Some years, I think it does. Others, I go home feeling disappointed that things fell short.

It's artificial, I know. Nobody listening is judging me by that standard. I'm not even at the church where I preached that sermon any more.

But I hold on to the thought that Easter is a larger crowd, with plenty of skeptics sprinkled among the regulars. People wondering what the big deal about church or faith is, people thinking that this hour of family obligation is the least they can do to get to the ham dinner that follows...they're here, and I'm here, so I want to tell them that there's something to this that is worth thinking about, that there's something that could be more relevant to their lives than they think.

So I think about this one sermon at least half the year. How will I do it this time around? How can I match the Arby's story? How can I make some real attempt to say that resurrection can be a real and good and life-giving thing beyond the hymns and eggs and trumpet fanfare and flowers?

I don't need to be this hard on myself about this. But it's been so many years now that it'd be a lot to undo.

I suppose that my Easter burden is really the burden many pastors feel all year. How do we show that this matters and can help lead to a real resurrection experience?

27 days to go. I'll keep asking.