I went to two church services on Easter Sunday. The first was the 8:30 am traditional service at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. The second was a United Methodist church service.
Here are some of my thoughts:
A. I was expecting the 8:30 am traditional Lutheran service to consist mostly of elderly people, and for most of the people to be dressed up. I also was not expecting too many people to be there, as I assumed that the 11:00 am contemporary service was what drew the crowds. But the traditional service had a full house. Most of the people there were elderly and middle-aged, but there were some young people. And many people were not dressed up. Some were, but the men who were not wearing a suit and tie wore khaki pants with their shirts tucked in. (I don’t recall if anyone wore jeans.) I’ll treat that as the dress code the next time I visit!
B. I was unclear about what exactly to do during the communion part of the service. Missouri Synod Lutherans serve closed communion, which means that not everyone can participate. I read one Missouri Synod site, and it said the people who want to partake of communion should see the pastor beforehand so that he can know about them and their faith. Our church bulletin said that, if we don’t participate, we can go up anyway, cross our arms, and receive a blessing from the pastor. I was not sure how exactly that worked, and I didn’t want to do it wrong, so I stayed in my pew. I was sitting near the back corner of the sanctuary, so I didn’t expect any awkwardness. I was quietly reading my bulletin, and an usher said, “Excuse me.” I looked up, he wanted to know if I was going up, and I just shook my head and said “No thank you.”
C. The pastor’s sermon was about not being afraid. There were two parts of his sermon that especially stood out to me. First, the pastor was talking about the “nones,” those who do not have a religion. The pastor wondered what they were doing that Easter morning. The pastor speculated that they were trying to get the most out of their day, dealing with the joys and trials of life, perhaps realizing somewhere in their minds that they would one day die. The pastor’s question struck me as rather odd, as if it was treating the “nones” as some mysterious other. “Does he know any nones?”, I wondered. Perhaps he was raised in the Christian faith and thus had limited familiarity with non-believers. I am only speculating here!
Second, the pastor was telling about a woman with a severe anxiety disorder who challenged him after he preached a sermon against fear. She thought that his sermon was making matters worse for her! She could not help that she was afraid! My ears perked up when the pastor said this, since I myself deal with fear, especially social anxiety. The pastor said that he told her a story about a young man with anxiety, who got up before the congregation and told them that his anxiety would not keep him from proclaiming his Savior. Speaking for myself, I am more fearful of interpersonal socializing than I am of getting up in front of a congregation, so I wonder how what the pastor said would fit my own situation. Still, I can appreciate his point, on some level: it’s good to have someone or something that is beyond my fear, which I can grasp.
D. I visited the United Methodist church about a year ago, after I moved to this area. I was not expecting to be remembered after that long a time, but I walked into the church last Sunday and an older gentleman handed me a bulletin and said, “Did you have a good year?” I said, “Thank you, sir,” which was probably a bit off-putting, but what he had said to me only registered with me after I had taken my seat. He remembered me from the last time I visited!
The pastor looked a lot different from how she looked the last time I had seen her. And I mean that I could not even tell that she was the same person, except for her voice! I looked up at the stage and wondered where the pastor was! She was thinner, her hair was longer and grayer, and she was wearing a long dress rather than her pastoral robe.
E. The pastor was preaching about the different reactions to Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospels. The disciple Jesus loved (whom she assumed was John) saw the empty tomb and believed easily. Peter was confused. Mary Magdalene wondered where Jesus’ body was.
The pastor said that, at that service, there are as many reactions to Jesus’ resurrection as there are people there. And she acknowledged that believing in Jesus’ resurrection could be difficult, since, in our experience, the dead remain dead. That goes with people, and it goes with pets. She asked us to consider what our response is to Jesus’ resurrection, and, maybe this coming week, we can try to have a little more faith.
I liked the openness of that sermon. I have inside of myself different reactions to Jesus’ resurrection, positive and negative. It can be used to support Christian exclusivism, which says that non-believers go to hell, and that frightens me. But I appreciate the story itself: the disciples were saddened by Jesus’ death, both because they lost their friend, teacher, and Messiah, and also because it looked as if evil and corruption had won out. But it didn’t, for Jesus rose.