Our first Easter with our new congregation I preached from my living room couch to an iPhone propped up on books and random home décor set up on an end table. It was lockdown in the early stages of pandemic. That was probably the strangest Easter I've ever experienced. No big worship service in a full sanctuary, no congregational singing with which to join my voice, no big extended family celebration. Just our digital tools to connect with each other and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Last year's Easter, while things were "getting back to normal", still felt different. We had two morning worship services to be able to spread people out and honor our government's restrictions for indoor gatherings. It was wonderful to worship in person with our congregation and be surrounded with the joyful sound of resurrection praise. I got to see, hear and feel the gathered body of Christ. Yet even with things "getting back to normal", there were differences. For one, our Sunday kids programs hadn't restarted yet. We had virtual and home-activities for a long time but we had not yet restarted with our new curriculum and new classes. It was also a season where still a lot of people were sick.
This year was different. It was my family's first Easter with our congregation without COVID restrictions. It sure was something to enjoy. Looking out from the stage I was filled with joy and gratitude to see so many faces present together. I beamed with pride to see my daughters join 23 other kids age 2 through 1st grade singing about Jesus on stage. We had a full house in our sanctuary prompting an urgent need for extra seating in the back. The congregational singing felt angelic. My heart was full as I praised the risen Jesus. *delightful sigh*
I've been reflecting a lot on that and have a few takeaways. In terms of relationships, it felt great to see so many people connected to our church joining us for worship. Whether extended families from other places, old friends of our church, or other connections, it was so good to see familiar faces again. From a leadership perspective, we have wondered about how many people are truly connected to our church right now. Newer families, regular visitors, more frequent worship from home when battling illness were all contributing to different ways of measuring regular worship attenders. With Easter, I felt like we got a taste of our more recent church impact. Also, Easter was a reminder of how far we've come in a year. Last year we had no in-person Sunday kids ministries and now those are some of our fastest growing ministries. What a testament to God's faithfulness! Through the pandemic the Spirit was inspiring some great leaders working behind the scenes to establish a strong plan for kids ministries that today we see thriving! I am very grateful for all those servants. Today we use almost every available space in our building for growing disciples of Jesus. Finally, Easter caught us a bit by surprise. When I say that, I mean we had not planned for so many people to be present with us in the sanctuary. We hadn't planned for extra spacing and seating. We hadn't told our ushers to more strategically place people closer together at first. Fortunately, we had some awesome volunteers on it! But it surely made for some cramped pews and creative seating.
Now I can go on and on about how great it is to be together in the sanctuary and how great some ministries are doing, but that's not what Easter is all about. It's not about the better feelings, or the growth we've seen, or various ways we've celebrated the past few years. Through all of that, and through these three years of changing Easters, one thing remains; Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ is coming again. That's what Easter is all about. Those first witnesses didn't come to a tomb with joy and expectation; they came with sorrow and grief. They didn't leave with a clear plan on what was next; they left bewildered by a command to share good news that Christ had risen. Easter isn't about a perfect production, it's about the shocking good news that Jesus is alive. When we worshiped from home in lockdown, we celebrated Jesus' death and resurrection that conquered sin and death. When we were slowly getting back to normal, what mattered was that Jesus is alive again and with us today by his Spirit. When we have a full sanctuary with cramped seats, we fix our eyes on the new kingdom when our praise will be even louder and more joyful when Christ comes again. What a great reminder for us. It doesn't matter whether all things are "running smoothly" or we're fumbling through life, it doesn't matter whether we're in times of great distress and loneliness or in great success and joy. The resurrection of Jesus remains the reason for our praise. This is the good news: He is risen. Christ is risen indeed.