We would often go to my grandparent’s for Easter. It was a special occasion. There were Easter eggs, Easter baskets, and a run through the front yard on Easter morning for little candy-filled plastic eggs. My grandmother made rosemary-encrusted roasted lamb for lunch after church. We all dressed up and caravanned the two miles to the local Episcopal church in that small Virginia town. The church had an Easter tradition that involved placing a cross in the front of the sanctuary, a cross made of rough, aged wooden boards, about four feet tall, loosely wrapped with chicken wire. It stayed that way throughout the Sunday service. At the end of the service, the children would come forward bringing the cut flowers—mostly daffodils of yellow and white—that they brought from home, cut from flower beds in their yards.1 They’d affix them to the cross through the slots in the chicken wire. When the bustle of children up front died down, the cross looked like it had sprouted dozens and dozens of spring flowers. I was young and unconverted, but it was something that I looked forward to every year.2
It would be years until I was born again and understood the significance of that image—of a rough cross, new life, and resurrection. It would be a few more years until I was ordained, and a few more years after that until I was pastoring the church I had planted, understanding the weight that a pastor bears getting ready for that most important of Sundays—Easter Sunday. Did I choose the right hymns and psalms (in the right versions)? Was my sermon clear enough to grip the seasoned saints in my congregation that had heard more Easter sermons in their life than I would likely ever preach? Was my sermon pointed enough to call the non-Christians, who would likely be in attendance, to repentance and faith? Was our nursery staffed enough for the influx of visitors? The expectancy was thick, almost like God offered the opportunity to work mightily on this one day, unlike what he was up to the other fifty-one.
Easter Sunday has always been a big deal, from my earliest unconverted memories to my recent pastor labors. I cherish those memories and my current family traditions.3 But I now know that all that expectancy was misplaced—like a young engaged couple that spends countless hours preparing for a wedding and not marriage.
I confess that I am an old-school presbyterian. I read the Westminster Confession devotionally.4 I believe in the regulative principle of worship. That means I am allergic to un- and a-biblical liturgical innovation, no matter which century of the church it was adopted. I think liturgical calendars are junior varsity at best. But it also means that my theological tradition has emphasized for me the importance of the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10)—the first day of the week (Luke 24:1; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), the Christian Sabbath. You see, every seven days after Jesus rose from the dead, Christians have worshiped our resurrected Lord. We haven’t missed one. As dawn stretches across the globe every Sunday morning it is greeted by worshipping Christians. No one has ever stopped us, and no one ever will, even if we have to worship in catacombs or underground churches. We’ll mark time in seven-day increments until the end of all things when Jesus returns. We don’t stop for a special day once a year. We stop and worship every week. And we don’t stop for a theological lecture wrapped in a few choral tunes. We stop to exalt our exalted, crucified, buried, risen, ascended, ruling King. We stop to confess again that we are needy sinners saved solely by the free grace of God in Christ (Eph. 2:1–10). We stop to beat the gospel into our heads because it only takes six days (or less) for us to lose our feeble grasp on it.5 We stop because our God, our gracious God, commands us to rest and celebrate more often than a bank has holidays.
“Celebrate Easter this Sunday. Then do it again every seven days after that.”—Joe Holland
And this is why I believe I’ve gotten Easter all wrong. Biblically, every Sunday is Easter. Every Sunday can (and should) have Easter expectancy. Every Sunday is about the person and work of Jesus. If there is a significant gap between Easter Sunday and all the rest of the Sundays, then we’re doing something very wrong. God isn’t especially present or especially willing to work on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon of each year (Col. 1:16–17). Our God is more gracious than that. He has, indeed, tied himself to work powerfully in a specific time and place—every Sunday wherever Christians gather under the ministry of elders with an open Bible. Easter-prioritized Christianity is anemic Christianity.
I am not saying that you need to do anything different on Easter. If society wants to nod at one Christian Sabbath a year, and if more non-Christians are going to show up in your church on a particular Sunday (that you know in advance), then, pastor, preach with all the zeal you can muster. I am saying that all the rest of the Sundays of the year should be more like this coming Sunday. And there are three easy ways to emphasize the Lord’s Day in your church. First, the preparation and expectancy of the people of God for Easter should be an every week occurrence. Sunday is our high and holy day. It is our spiritual birthright. Second, sing resurrection psalms6 and hymns all year. Don’t relegate the church’s most important music on the most important theme to one or two Sundays a year. Third, no matter where you’re preaching from in the Bible, eventually get to a clear proclamation of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Christ. The problem with church calendars (no matter how robust or minimal) isn’t what they highlight on those days but what they implicitly diminish on all the rest.
So celebrate Easter this Sunday. Then do it again every seven days after that.
- I have fond memories of watching out the window that morning, as my grandfather cut flowers for all the grandchildren, wrapping the stems of each bouquet in wet paper towels with tinfoil on the outside. ↩
- And I should say that I would never do this in any church I pastored. It violates one of my rules of public worship and preaching: never (ever) use props. ↩
- I’ve jettisoned all the silly Easter basket, Easter bunny nonsense. But my family has a tradition of greeting each other on Easter morning with the familiar call-and-response of, “He is risen!” and “He is risen indeed, alleluia!” ↩
- And the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Synod of Dort (and sometimes Savoy). ↩
- “And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.” —Martin Luther, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Smith, English & Co. 1860), p. 206. ↩
- Like Psalm 16. ↩