I will never forget the strangest Christmas I’ve ever experienced—or ever hope to. It was 1994 and I was with a group of Seminarians in Israel. The trip had been amazing and life-changing for me as a young pastor. But on Christmas Eve, we went to Bethlehem to celebrate the season with choirs from around the world gathered at the Church of the Nativity. Bethlehem in 1994 had recently become part of Palestinian territory.
Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem sure didn’t describe what we found—thousands of partiers and revelers—mainly Islamic—drunk, loud, and terribly disrespectful. You couldn’t hear the choirs for the roars and shouts of the partying mob…
I had gone with our little band of Christians hoping for a Norman Rockwell experience—picture perfect and tender and sweet. Instead, it became more of a Picasso moment—strange and startling and hard to reconcile.
Still, I learned a lot about the real condition of the world that Holy Night in Bethlehem in 1994 and wonder if we are collectively about to learn some important lessons this weekend when we celebrate in a focused way the Resurrection.
Many of us are about to experience the strangest Easter season we have ever known—or hope to.
Family gatherings are discouraged or forbidden in some states. Easter Church Services are cancelled, except for the sweet and powerful gatherings we are having as Life Groups, house-to-house. We are not alone in the Lord leading us to not put all our church life into one basket—Sunday Services. But it is amazing how few churches have really been prepared for this! We weren’t perfectly prepared, but we have jumped into house-to-house church beautifully.
(We will, however, meet on the Square Sunday to celebrate as one church meeting in many cars, IF THE weather cooperates with no rain…)
What is Easter going to look like without new dresses, fresh haircuts, and an emotionally moving service that calls us to the empty tomb? Some of us have NEVER experienced an Easter Sunday without a big ham and a large crowd, special desserts and lots of plastic Easter eggs full of chocolate for the kids to find.
How will we process and push through this huge interruption, this colossal train wreck? I hope well—very well!
Maybe we will be able to see the Resurrection of Jesus with new Sight. There is a power in Him that He desires to be at work in us—a fear-quenching, hope-inducing, life-giving power that reminds us constantly that we are seated with Him in the heavenly places, not beggars cowering at His feet, longing for just a crumb…
Perhaps we will find a sweetness in the simplicity of the Empty Tomb apart from all the stress of meal prep, egg stuffing, and house cleaning.
I think we may discover there is a world of animosity out there that hates Jesus and His Church and the reality of the Resurrection. But in the discovering, we may find we can refocus Easter celebrations to better reflect what Jesus did and does, rather than on vague practices… We may find better ways to introduce the people around us to the Risen King, Jesus! The Person, not a program. What people need is REAL NEW LIFE! What wounded, angry people need is the Person of Jesus, not a ham sandwich! Lord, give us fresh sight and insight as we maneuver through the strangest Easter ever…!