Normally, the week before Easter, often called Holy Week, is a very busy time in my line of work. (I stuck that “often called” in there for a reason, which we’ll come back to.)
But this is a strange Easter in a strange year. Basically, all over the world, most people are sitting at home. Churches do all sorts of different things around Easter, but odds are, whatever your church usually does, they’re not doing.
As a pastor, my job both has and hasn’t changed in the past few weeks. I talk to people, I write and preach sermons, I do admin. A lot of that I can do at home. Like most people, I’m having a lot more Zoom calls than normal, and like most pastors, I’ve learned more about live streaming than I care to know. The very real crisis honestly feels distant, as the Czech Republic has done a fantastic job of flattening the curve.
But today, which is often called Good Friday, 2 days before the Sunday that is often called Easter, when Christians have historically celebrated the Resurrection of Christ, I’m not leading a Good Friday service. I’m not making sure everything is squared away for Easter Sunday, or double checking with Melissa to make sure no one’s left out of Easter dinner. All those things would be normal.
Instead, I’m sitting in my happy place: at a table in our garden, watching meat cook on the smoker, smelling charcoal and hickory, hearing my kids run around and birds chirp and normal neighborhood sounds.
This is one of my favorite things to do. But it feels weird today. Shouldn’t I be mourning over the death of Christ and my sin that made it necessary, or at least watching a Good Friday service? Maybe we should have planned one. Maybe I’ve failed to call our people to meditate on the Cross and God’s redeeming love. Maybe this is a huge missed opportunity. All of these thoughts have gone through my head in the last hour, and maybe they’re right.
I’m a pastor in the Reformed tradition, which is vast and varied. The stream I generally line up with has historically not made a huge deal of the church calendar. Calvin, from what I understand, didn’t preach Easter sermons and Christmas sermons. He preached whatever was next in the Bible. He was very sensitive, for very good reasons, about innovation and observing man-made traditions.
(Can we just agree not to argue over that right now, and follow me to the point.)
I’m not as hardcore on these points as Calvin. I love Advent and Christmas, and I really love preaching my tail off at Easter and singing “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today.” A pattern of observing major events like the incarnation, the cross and resurrection, and Pentecost (you forgot about that one, didn’t you) is a great way to make sure we take time to emphasize those aspects of the work of Christ.
But man, am I glad to be a Protestant today.
The Bible tells me to reflect on the priceless gift of the Lamb of God, slain for my sin. It tells me to rejoice that Christ is risen, that death no longer has mastery over him. It does not tell me I have to celebrate the Resurrection on the first Sunday following the first full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox. It does not tell me that I have to keep the Friday two days before that in any particular way. Again, these can be helpful rhythms. I’m not anti-Easter; the sermon is written and ready to go.
But my little back-and-forth with myself today has pointed me to one more reason to rejoice in the cross: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—not my proper celebrating of them—has purchased the forgiveness of my sin, brought me home to God, and secured for me all his benefits.
Am I sufficiently sober and worshipful today? No. I never have been a day in my life. Have we emphasized the story of Holy Week enough with the kids? No, though we’ve tried. Am I thinking enough about the Resurrection and not too much about the deviled eggs I’m planning to make for the first time? Almost certainly not. And that’s OK, because one thing Jesus purchased for me with his death is the freedom not to worry about those things.
Jesus’ work on the cross is complete. He has purchased for me every kindness I receive from God, from forgiveness of sin to this quiet moment with the smell of the hickory. He died so that I can receive these gifts from my Father, and not fret over whether I’m responding sincerely enough.
Tonight we’re planning to watch the Jesus Storybook Bible video on the crucifixion, then wait until Sunday to watch the one about the Resurrection. Our 3-year-old, who’s new to our family, hasn’t heard the story in all its details, so we want her to sit in the sadness and then experience the joy. I’m about to read and meditate on some hymns about the Cross. I’m also going to listen to my daughter jump on the trampoline, probably have a beer, and thank Jesus for loving me enough to give me all these good gifts. I believe it will be a good Friday.