Category Archives: Church Visits Blog

Quirky Church Service Practices Repel Repeat Visits by Guests

In many years of visiting local churches, I’ve experienced a wide variety of services. A characteristic of churches I do not seek to revisit is represented by those with quirky services. This can be exhibited in many ways, but often as follows.

  • Service time commitment not followed
  • Runaway musical productions
  • Off-the-cuff lengthy sharing moments
  • Lengthy and verbose offering appeals
  • Interminable altar calls

Earlier this year, I attended a Sunday service at a new church.  The music was brief and to the point. The pastor repeatedly elicited responses from all present such as asking people to stand for the reading of scripture; asking people to say “amen” on many occasions; after a prayer he said, “and everyone that agreed with that prayer shouted…” to which a muted shout of “amen” rang out. Disrespectfully, a chorus of cell phones rang during the entire service. During a lengthy testimony time, many gave individual testimonies or asked for prayers of support. This was the first time I’d experienced this in all my church visits here. An emotional time consuming a significant amount of the service, it might have been more effective in a mid-week service. In fact, an entire hour went by before the preaching by a guest speaker started. The service lasted just shy of two hours. I had attended this church one other time and found them similarly unpredictable.  Significantly fewer people were present at this recent service, versus to previous one noted leading me to assume their church growth strategy was not working.

With over 50 churches closing every week across the U.S., there has to come a time when churches need to recognize their ministry is just not being effective.

One local church I’ve attended has offering sermons prior to the offering collection. They last longer than most homilies offered by local pastors. Their services last a couple of hours as well.  Another local church has members bring their offerings up front to staffed offering plates. I fail to see the value of this practice which I consider to be offensive to first-time guests and possibly regulars.

Many churches think that a rich musical entertainment format will attract and hold millennials. However, church consultant Thom Rainer says they’re looking for three things: content, authenticity, and quality.  In a recent article (http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2017/april/the-real-reason-why-millennials-arent-going-to-church-and-its-not-because-they-hate-jesus) Rainer said, “They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths,Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music.” They are looking for rich spiritual truth in the message, and in the lives of the members. They will quickly see through inauthentic congregations. Too many churches still offer half-hour or longer music sessions at earsplitting levels. That’s not what these future church members and potential leaders seek.

Altar calls are a standard in evangelicalism. Many times they last 15 minutes or more. I consider them to be unscriptural, psychological blackmail, and an artifact of the second great awakening in the early 1800’s but honed by evangelicals to produce “decisions” by which effectiveness of ministry is measured.  By and large I do not think God works on the human heart through emotional altar calls. Quite often they are accompanied by pleading songs and instrumental music to shape attendees emotions to a desired response. Studies indicate few people make life-giving changes during altar calls and repeating the sinner’s prayer.  One lengthy altar call I recently witnessed saw the pastor searching the crowd. He finally admitted the person(s) he’d hoped to come forward wasn’t even there that morning.  God works on the heart, asking individuals to “rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Finally, pastors should build expectations in every member/guest regarding service times and stick to them.  Sermons can be overdone and overly long. As a professional presenter, I learned early that to be effective, I had to do three things: say in advance what I was going to cover, then say it, and finish by repeating what I’d said. This practice makes the information memorable and unforgettable.  I love to hear Redeemer Presbyterian’s Tim Keller do exactly that. In no small part it’s why his unfolding of scriptural truth is so compelling. I rarely hear local pastors use the same tried and true technique. Peoples attention spans are very brief these days. Some of the most effective sermons I’ve heard locally were only 10-15 minutes long.

We should strive to give our guests and members unforgettable experiences in worship.

Happy church-going during this beautiful Alaskan summer!

 

churchvisits@gmail.com
churchvisits.com

 

Eagle River Institute 2017 – Science & Faith is Key Topic – Plan to attend!

St John Orthodox Cathedral – Eagle River

St. John Orthodox Cathedral has announced their Eagle River Institute topic for this year: Orthodoxy and Science.

I’m very excited about this topic as it offers a unique experience for local Christians and other seekers to delve into the topic of religion and science. In over 17 years of visiting various churches in Anchorage, I’ve yet to hear any clergy dealing with this topic.  In light of this, I asked Fr. Marc Dunaway, Archpriest of St. John Orthodox Cathedral why this topic was chosen for this year.  “We want to address issues that are especially on the minds of the young people,” Fr. Marc replied. “We cannot ignore the recent statistics showing the increased departure of the millennial generation from the Christian Faith. Issues about Science and Faith are certainly very important.”

Fr. Marc is right as millennial’s have expressed dissatisfaction about churches sweeping science and faith issues under the rug. Much has been written about this recently. David Kinnaman of the Barna Group presented research findings a few years back in his masterful book, “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith.”

The Institute will be held August 1-5 at St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River.   A pair of highly qualified presenters will conduct four track sessions each, starting at 3:30 p.m. each of the five days, ending at 9:30 p.m. A dinner and vespers break separates each of the two-hour sessions.

Peter Bouteneff, PhD, a professor at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, will be presenting on “Early Christian Tradition and Genesis 1-3.”  Gayle Woloshak, PhD, professor of radiation oncology at Northwestern University and adjunct professor of Religion at Lutheran School of Theology Chicago and at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The speakers will alternate between afternoon and evening sessions.

For complete information and an detailed brochure use this link: http://stjohnalaska.org/institute.html.

As a side-note, I recently discovered that Hank Hanegraaff, president of Christian Research Institute, and known as the Bible Answer Man, recently converted to Orthodoxy. His given reasons for leaving evangelicalism include watching pastors who act more like entrepreneurs focused on branding. Hanegraaff said, “Where the pastor is like an entrepreneur, branding, formulaically getting people into seats — that became troubling to me and I decided I was going to explore,” he said.

I’m looking forward to this exploration of science and faith through the eyes of Orthodoxy. It’s worth the small fee. Over the years, I’ve become enjoyed the warm and dedicated spiritual connection this particular Orthodox community offers.

 

10-minute Church! Is that possible?

10W on Soundcloud

Anchorage pastors sometimes surprise me with insights of connecting to people spiritually. Pastor Dan Bollerud, retired Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, came up with one such idea over six-years ago.

When he was pastor at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church (COSLC), he was approached by a couple in search of worship materials to take and use on a summer trip for their private devotions.  This linked an observation he had that “20-somethings” missed church, but didn’t come often.  Through dialog involving the question, “What would church look like if you started from scratch?”, he developed a mini-church service to be recorded and distributed to members via CD. When deciding upon a name for this new program, wife Jan suggested calling it a 10-minute worship, the time it took her to drive to work.  So, the name 10W was born for the 10-minute worship service. Initially, it was copied onto CDs and placed in the church narthex for anyone to take. In fact, at my first visit to COSLC, Pastor Dan gave me such a set of those CDs. At that time, each CD contained services for all of the weeks of the month.

Lectionaries are used by many churches to cover the scriptural flow of the church year, including major events and celebrations. Last Sunday, for example, was Pentecost and has specific scriptural references to follow. This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  Initially Pastor Dan started using the Revised Common Lectionary for the 10W but about four-years ago, added the Narrative Lectionary. Both versions are still used.

Liturgical Format
Each 10W service follows the liturgical format of a Lutheran Service. Pastor Dan begins each 10W with a song which fades out partway through.  A variety of spiritual music is used, but only with the permission of the musicians presented. He released the Revised Common Lectionary version of June 11’s service yesterday. You may listen to it via this link.

https://soundcloud.com/bollerud/61117-how-do-i-love-thee

Titled “How Do I Love Thee”, the introductory music by Dakota Road is “Dance with Me.”  After a brief introductory statement, he offers prayer before commencing the gospel reading.  After the gospel, he presents a brief homily distilling each Sunday’s theme.  This particular homily dealt with Trinity Sunday. Following the homily, a statement of faith (apostles creed or other) is recited.  Personal prayers come next, in true liturgical fashion, thanking God, praying for the world and nation, the community, the faith community, friends and family, and for help in specific ways.  The Lord’s Prayer immediately follows, along with a concluding blessing. The service ends after the second part of the introductory song is completed.

To receive the 10W, sign-up via the following link. (www.10worship.blogspot.com) You will then receive it by an email twice a week, Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary.  When you received the emailed service click on the link provided and you’ll be taken to Soundcloud to hear the 10W. By using the search tool on Soundcloud, you can type “Bollerud” and find all of the 10W’s posted with them.  I just open the Soundcloud app on my mobile phone and listen directly.

Other Pastors Contribute
Several other area Lutheran pastors support Pastor Dan by doing occasional 10W service recordings. Pastor Julia Seymour, Lutheran Church of Hope and Pastor Martin Eldred, Joy Lutheran-Eagle River lend their talents to this wonderful spiritual vehicle from time to time.

10W’s have been a blessing to me and I highly recommend them to you as well. It’s not often we experience true innovation like this in Alaska.

Pastor Dan continues to explore new vehicles to encourage spiritual development in our media-driven culture. I wish him well, and to the other ELCA pastors who support this wonderful spiritual tool. If you are aware of unique spiritual practices and tools to share with a wider audience, please write me at churchvisits@gmail.com.

 

 

Easter 2017 Memories

Every year, when Easter finally arrives, I visit churches for the joys of communal Easter celebration but vow this is just a personal experience for me.  Usually later, I find my thoughts bending toward sharing the experiences I’ve been a part of. Easter this year is no exception.

My visits took me to two separate churches of different denominations.  The commonality of the joy was expressed in both, but in different ways.

The first visit was to St. John United Methodist Church’s 9 a.m. service. The music was glorious, full of choral expressions and worshiper singing. Most churches tend to start Easter services with the pastor intoning “Christ is risen!” to which all reply “Christ is risen indeed!” repeated three times and ending with “Allelula!” The same was joyfully done this morning.

The choir’s anthem was “Rejoice, He is Alive” by Shafferman, and beautifully sung. St. John is one of the shrinking number of Anchorage churches still maintaining a fine choir. Ably directed and accompanied by a husband and wife team, they are a credit to this church and our community.

Pastor Andy Bartel’s sermon was titled, “What Are You Looking For” and tied to the New Testament scripture for the day of John 20:1-18, the account of the resurrection discovery and Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus when he asked her what she was looking for. Bartel provided a great challenge for today’s Christian.

The service concluded with G.F. Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, led by the choir and participated in by all. I was invited to join the choir as the led out in this appropriate and beautiful ode to joy, and tribute to the Messiah. Wonderful service at this friendly church!

The 2nd service I attended was at First Covenant Church, downtown Anchorage. To me, this church offers its multicultural congregation wonderful evangelical services.  My few visits there have been accentuated by hymnody led by a spirited singing group of six, using acoustic instruments, stepping through hymns in an upbeat fashion. This day their songs included, “Low in the Grave He Lay”, “Amazing Love”, “I Surrender All”, and “The Easter Song”.  An all-church choir came forward to sing that old evangelical song, “He Lives”.

Pastor Max Lopez-Cepero’s sermon was actually a reading of noted author Walter Wangerin, Jr’s “The Ragman”. I considered it to be a remarkably moving tribute to the power of Jesus in changing people’s lives. If you care to read it click this link. http://tinyurl.com/n3uky2g

There was a baptism of a young man as the service was concluding. First Covenant practices full immersion baptism and it was a scene of joy as he was baptized while his family looked on.  All were invited to a coffee and dessert reception as the service concluded.

I was filled with joy and wonder at the power of religion to bring hope, and the celebration of that hope by these two churches this Easter. Although only four weeks has passed since Easter, the memories of it linger in many hearts, including mine.

Church Gardens List Now Live!

Several readers advised me of church gardens I’d missed in last week’s column. Thanks to my sharp-eyed readers!  Those gardens missed are:

Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer
First Christian Church (DOC) – Anchorage
Immanuel Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
Trinity Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
River of Life Lutheran Church – Chugiak

I’ve added a menu item on my website showing all church gardens I’m aware of, along with the names of identified coordinators. Take a peek. http://www.churchvisits.com/church-gardens/

Please help me keep this list up-to-date with corrections or additions.
Chris
churchvisits@gmail.com

Church Gardens: Why aren’t more doing them?

 

Lutheran Church of Hope – Hope Garden – 2016                                                  (Don Bladow pictured in garden)

In 2015, at the suggestion of a St. John United Methodist member, I wrote my first column on church gardens. I followed that column up with several others about the fantastic strides some local churches have been making in planting those gardens. (see http://www.churchvisits.com/?s=church+gardens to read those columns).

However, considering that Anchorage has around 400 churches, it’s disturbing to see so few churches devoting space and emphasis to this practical ministry with many spiritual implications. Fewer, if any, of those gardens involve individuals in the community who are given the produce grown in those gardens. Is it possible that a sense of entitlement has grown up among recipients of all of this fresh produce, overriding any real interest in learning how food is grown, where it comes from, and the significant amount of labor to make it happen? Or, are churches struggling with the concept of involving needy recipients in the process of food production?

It’s already planting season, and planning for those gardens should have occurred months ago. While never too late, concerted effort could still be made to make them happen yet this year. If one looks at the average physical church property, many have adequate space surrounding them to make it happen. Just look at the average church property you drive by regularly.

Several churches are making a difference in the community by dedicating the space, putting in the requisite planting beds, and fencing them for protection. One of my favorite church gardens, and largest to my knowledge, is Lutheran Church of Hope on W. Northern Lights. They started last year with around 4,000 sq ft, and have doubled their space to over 9,000 sq ft. Their bountiful harvest goes to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA) for distribution through their food pantry.

Master gardener Don Bladow shares that The garden is not free of snow yet so is looks like we won’t be planting ’til the more traditional time near Memorial Day. We did expand it last fall to about 9,000 sq. ft. It’s all fenced. We got that done in October. I have been planting starts and have plans for a couple of new experiments this year. Will try to grow a number of other species of peppers and cucumbers. The cukes will be outside under a lean to type greenhouse that will be open on the ends. Will also plant beans and turnips this year as well as most of the stuff we planted last year.”

Hope Garden (potatoes from one plant)

Don maintains a blog on the garden and expects to start posting to it several times monthly as early as June. His excellent blog is located at http://harvestofhopememorialgarden.blogspot.com/.

Hope Garden (one Friday’s harvest)

Anchorage Lutheran has also taken the plunge into church gardening with 17 – 4×8’ raised beds. They’ll be fencing the garden shortly, a necessity, as church gardens make excellent browsing and forage sources for rabbits and moose. I talked with Lisa Wilkinson, co-coordinator of their garden, who, with member Dick Mikkelsen has been a strong champion. They’re planting potatoes, cabbage, carrots, primarily, along with a mixture of other things. They’ll be donating their product to LSSA and Beans’ Café according to member/gardener wishes. They’ll be planting in compost, and are setting up a composter on site to further this practice. Lisa shares their goal is “to teach and donate”.  That’s the first step in involving a wider community.

St. John United Methodist Church has had a “Jesus Garden” for several years. Coordinator Allison McLain has personal and practical visions for the Jesus Garden. Allison says, “My Jesus Garden vision for this year is one I have followed for as many years there have been Jesus Garden’s in my life: grow fresh vegetables for people in need of food. Growing vegetables is something that I can do to support people in need and happily there are friends at church and a husband and daughter who believe in this idea too!!! I feel called by Jesus to do this…and I wonder sometimes if Jesus called me to do this because it is something reasonably easy for me to do for people in need with a full-time job, family, church, and the other adventures in my life.”

My practical vision for this year is to expand our vegetable growing abilities by asking people in our church to be Potato Nannies – to grow potatoes at home in buckets – all the potatoes would of course be part of our St. John Jesus Food donation to Downtown Soup Kitchen. With potatoes growing elsewhere we will have more space to grow more chard and kale in the garden at St. John. My goal for this year is to grow and donate 300 pounds of food to DSK.”

“Kale and chard are two standard soup ingredients for soups on the weekly menu at Downtown Soup Kitchen (DSK), where all the Jesus Garden produce is donated. Last year we donated 260 pounds of produce (peas, red runner beans, chard, kale, parsley, basil, lovage, and potatoes.). I plan what we grow with Vicki Martin at DSK; we only grow what will be used in soups made by DSK chefs. Often what we deliver early in the week is used later that week in soup.  If our donated vegetables don’t go into soups right away DSK volunteers process them for freezing and later use.”
Other churches with gardens this year include:
Central Lutheran Church
Christ Church Episcopal Church
Joy Lutheran Church
Lutheran Social Services of Alaska
St. Anthony’s Catholic Church
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Turnagain United Methodist Church
Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer

If I’ve omitted any church from this list, please let me know and I’ll add it to a new tab I’ll be placing on my website ChurchVisits.com.

Blessings to all churches for the coming harvest from these gardens. I’ll provide updates as I receive them. Write me at churchvisits@gmail.com to keep me updated. There is a very practical side of ministry but most local churches seem to be missing the boat in applying that lesson.

There’s Still a Place at My Table for You at the AFACT Breakfast on Tuesday–7:30 a.m.

Dear Local Anchorage Readers
As mentioned in my last post, I’m attending the AFACT Breakfast of Hope, Central Lutheran Church – 7:30 a.m. I’d love to have you join my table, get acquainted, and also hear about what AFACT is doing in our faith community.

This link provides greater detail:
http://www.churchvisits.com/2017/05/join-me-for-breakfast-in-anchorage-next-tuesday/

Please RSVP me at churchvisits@gmail.com if you can join me for this informative breakfast.

Blessings

Chris

Join Me for Breakfast in Anchorage Next Tuesday?

Dear Local “Church Visits” Reader
I’d like to invite you to join my table at AFACT’s “Breakfast of Hope”. This event is a complimentary breakfast for people to come and learn more about AFACT (Anchorage Faith & Action-Congregations Together). Yes, it is a fundraiser. There is no minimum or maximum gift requested. You are welcome to join me to learn more about the organization and the work they are doing in the city of Anchorage.  It will be the job of the organization to inspire people to want to give. As much as anything, we want people to come and find out about the great work AFACT is doing to change the lives of families in our community.

What: AFACT’s third annual “Breakfast of Hope” fundraiser

When: Tuesday, May 9, 2017
7:30am – 8:30am

Where: Central Lutheran Church
1420 Cordova St.
(15th Ave. and Cordova St.)

AFACT (Anchorage Faith & Action—Congregations Together) was created in 2003 by eight local pastors to organize, empower and mobilize local faith communities to address quality of life issues impacting the community.  Since its inception, members of local faith communities have stepped into leadership roles on a multitude of issues (examples below) and have worked with public and elected officials on all sides of the political spectrum.  AFACT’s congregation-based community organizing model is at its core, about people.  Today its membership includes sixteen diverse faith congregations across Anchorage.

Some of the issues addressed by AFACT leaders are:

  • public safety, bike and pedestrian safety
  • improving neighborhoods (streets, dumpsters, graffiti, bus stops)
  • chronic homelessness
  • substance abuse, including detox & treatment
  • health care (Medicare, Denali Kid Care, Medicaid Expansion)
  • education (specifically the quality of education for native students in ASD)
  • children’s issues (summer recreation and lunch programs, after- school care)
  • voter engagement (public candidate forums, voter registration & Get Out the Vote)
  • immigration reform

Also visit www.anchoragefact.org  for more information.  I look forward to hosting you at my table.  Please RSVP by sending me an email at churchvisits@gmail.com.  Just say YES, I’ll be there to sit with you and learn more. I’d also consider it a great honor to get to know some of my readers better.

Blessings and thank you!

Chris

Seder Celebrations are Jewish History to the Core

During Holy Week this year, I participated in Congregation Beth Sholom’s (frozenchosen.org) 2nd Night Community Seder, my third with this warm congregation. Seder is observed during the eight-days of Passover (seven if in Jerusalem). Pesach (Passover) commemorates the events of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. In the Bible, the Exodus story is found in the book of Exodus, chapters 1-15.  The Passover, proclaimed by Moses, was instituted in Egypt as the key last event preceding Pharaohs releasing the children of Israel.

Passover was intended to be observed by the Israelite’s after their deliverance. Instructions for its observance are contained in Exodus, chapters 12-15. Seder, as such, was formalized after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  Before Passover is celebrated, each Jewish household is thoroughly cleaned and all forbidden items such as yeast, yeast breads, etc., are eliminated.

Pesach is one of the most commonly observed Jewish holidays, even by otherwise non-observant Jews. According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), 67% of Jews routinely hold or attend a Pesach Seder, while only 46% belong to a synagogue.

Generally a written Hagaddah is used which contains the various readings and songs in proper order. It was a treat to be seated with CBS member Michael Silverbook who described some of the key during the evening. At the same time, he was hosting three deaf gentlemen, using his phone to dictate what was happening at each moment, showing it to one who communicated to the others via sign language. Michael’s wife, and former Rabbi Frederick Wenger and his wife also were at our table.  I should note that the meal was catered by Aladdin’s Restaurant who yearly does such a fine job of serving kosher and excellently prepared food with great service.  The 2nd Night Community Seder is offered to non-CBS members for a fee, which includes all food and the ceremonial wine; I paid this fee in advance.

You can read the entire text of a Reform Judaism Haggadah by clicking this link. (http://jewishfederation.org/images/uploads/holiday_images/39497.pdf)

The entire celebration lasts 3-4 hours and is a delightful time of listening, learning, and celebrating Israel’s liberation. This is a family affair with all members of the family participating. Rabbi Michael Oblath, who replaced Rabbi Wenger, led the readings and singing from the Haggadah. Each act performed is symbolic.

  1. Sanctifying the Day
    2. Handwashing
    3. Dipping Parsley in Salt Water
    4. Breaking the Middle Matzah
    5. The Seder Narrative
    —The Four Questions
    —The Four Children
    —The Ten Plagues
    —Dayenu
    —Explanation of Passover Symbols
    6. Handwashing
    7. Blessing at the Start of the Meal
    8. Blessing over Matzah
    9. Eating of Bitter Herbs
    10. Matzah and Charoset Sandwich
    11. Dinner
    12. The Afikomen Dessert Matzah
    13. Grace after the Meal
    14. Praises and Blessings
    15. Closing Section and Songs

I particularly enjoy the four questions asked of children, children’s search for the afikomen, drinking the ritual four glasses of wine, the ritual drops of wine of a plate for each of the plagues, singing of Dayenu, and the sense of community this celebration brings annually.

Some Christian churches conduct Seders in their churches which has created some degree of controversy and animosity within the Jewish community. Last month Christianity Today ran several articles dealing with the pros and cons of Christians observing Seders in their churches. I suggest both for a balanced view. Personally, I think Christians should respect the argument that having these celebrations amount to cultural appropriation. I attend to better understand Jewish tradition.
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/march-web-only/jesus-didnt-eat-seder-meal.html

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/rabbi-passover-is-for-christians-too.html

Several years ago, I asked a Rabbi friend what he thought about Christians doing Seder in their churches. He wryly answered, “Why don’t they do Yom Kippur?”

I’ve previously written about my local Seder experiences in these two columns:
Lubavitcher (http://www.churchvisits.com/2015/04/seder-in-anchorages-lubavitcher-community/) and Reform, (http://www.churchvisits.com/2014/05/at-seder-a-community-reflects-on-liberation-from-slavery/).

My thanks again to the wonderful community of Congregation Beth Sholom and their acceptance of me at their synagogue, allowing me to experience various festivals of their faith of which Seder is only one.

 

 

Easter 2017 is Here!

It’s time to rejoice.

Easter has finally arrived with great joy for Christendom. Many Christians have trudged their way through Lent, thinking about the last days of Jesus and reflecting upon the life lived in the light of the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.

As you read this, many Orthodox Christians will have already celebrated Pascha at the midnight hour with great rejoicing. I experienced Pascha last year through the eyes of two Orthodox congregations. It was a real blessing to participate in their joy as the resurrection of Jesus was loudly proclaimed.  My ADN column of those experiences can be seen here. (see http://www.churchvisits.com/2016/05/reflections-on-orthodox-easter/)

Different faiths have different expressions of Easter joy. I enjoy experiencing them first hand to get a better understanding on how theologically accurate they are. In many congregations, Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, and frivolities are the centerpiece instead of Jesus Christ, Him crucified, buried, and resurrected. Skeptics rejoice to see such nonsense supported by those types of churches observing that nonsense.  We live in a different world, some would say, a post-Christian world. More than ever Christians should rejoice in the purity of our message of hope.

For many of my Church Visits writing years I’ve loved repeating a fantastic Wright quote from his book “Surprised by Hope” as it inspires a true re-examination of the way we celebrate. “Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday,” Wright says, “It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?”

I conclude with theologian Walter Brueggemann’s Easter poem.

An Easter Prayer
…On our own, we conclude:
that there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short

of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day…
seize the goods…
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit;

You come
You come giving bread in the wilderness
You come giving children at the 11th hour
You come giving homes to the exiles
You come giving futures to the shut-down
You come giving Easter joy to the dead
You come … fleshed … in Jesus

And we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing.

We watch … and we take

food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we do not deserve it.

It dawns on us, late rather than soon, that
You give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

By your giving,
break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance…mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives

that your much-ness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,

so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder
without coercive need, but only love
without destructive greed, but only praise
without aggression and evasiveness…
all things Easter new…

all around us, toward us and by us
all things Easter new.

Finish your creation…
in wonder, love and praise. Amen.

To all my readers, Happy Easter…He is Risen!