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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

The simplicity of Easter

Easter is not a simple time for a pastor. I've been reflecting a bit on how complicated this high holy day, the Resurrection of our Lord, can be for pastors.

My first Easter Sunday sermon was the longest sermon I've ever preached (except for a worship service in our companion synod in the Central African Republic, where long sermons are required). It lasted more than half an hour, because I felt compelled to say everything possible to those who showed up for worship only on Easter and Christmas. Somehow I felt that if I could just explain how profound, how miraculous, how eternal, how grace-filled, how life-giving, how important this Gospel message was, then lives would be changed. In retrospect, at some level I must have felt it was up to me to preach a sermon as profound as the Resurrection itself. (Well, good luck with that, Rick.) In any case, I do remember clearly that my gracious, loving, insightful spouse was not enthralled with my effort and I never did that again.

My first Easter children's sermon was equally flawed. I recall trying to talk about eggs and baby chicks and new life and birth and.... I think I thoroughly confused the children. I know for certain I had to make an extra visit to a wonderful young family the next week. The parents phoned, explaining that following my children's sermon, their two young children refused to eat eggs (now "cuddly baby chicks" in their little heads). I visited their home and had a very earnest conversation with little Joey and Lindsey, explaining that the "baby chick eggs" were fertilized and very different from the eggs their parents were serving them. They seemed OK with that, much to the adults' relief. I took more care with the imagery of my children's sermons from then on.

Easter Sunday is the culmination of a very demanding season for pastors. In my first two years, I had the "inspiration" to add extra visits, extra Bible studies, extra worship, and extra ministries. I did this thinking that surely during Lent people's attention and energy would be more focused on the church and mission, so what better time could there be? Of course, it totally escaped me that I would be exhausted and useless by the end. My children remember "dancing around my prone body in the living room" in the afternoon on Easter Sunday. I got (a little) wiser in the ensuing years, but it's a demanding season nonetheless.

It's tempting in the northern climes to equate Easter with spring and green and the dissipation of cold, dark winter days. Fine, but not all Christians live in the north. In fact, I think that imagery would have escaped Jesus and his first followers altogether.

Easter is about the Resurrection of Jesus, and all the promise inherent in that event. I heard that promise again yesterday. It was a funeral for an old saint, a vital active member of the congregation in the first parish I served long ago. I reconnected with children and grandchildren and we relived some poignant moments of life: joy, pain, childhood foibles, families assailed by illness and held together by love and faith, and all that goes with those conversations. Those realities come and go. The pastor acknowledged them, and spoke the word of Easter. The promise of life. The forgiveness of sin. The Resurrection. First-fruits. "Behold, I go to prepare a place for you." "In my Father's Kingdom there are many mansions." "Peace be with you."

The joys and sorrows of life are transient. Easter lasts. The Resurrection of our Lord gets the last word, a word of promise that endures. All those memories I have of Easters past are good. I remember my foibles and I recall faithful people. That is part of the fabric of a pastor's life. But in the end, what I treasure most is that simple, enduring word of promise that I heard again at the funeral. Easter may seem like a time for busyness and long sermons and baby chicks and green buds, but really it is a time for promise, for life, and for a gift that endures.

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