Today is Easter Sunday, but for many people in the world – and even our country – it is just another Sunday. Maybe they are getting together with family, maybe they are exchanging baskets of gifts or watching the kids go hunting for eggs. But in the grand scheme of their year it isn’t all that big of a deal.
But for Christians it is another story altogether. We gathered in droves this morning to celebrate our Risen Savior! We put on our best Sunday clothes, we smiled and hugged one another and wished everyone we could a “Happy Easter” because we are filled with joy today. We rose early for sunrise services and joined in fellowship over Easter breakfast, we sang hymns with full hearts and full voices. Our musicians gave their best to add to our worship, to give our best to Jesus, who died for us, and rose from the dead.
It is quite a lot of effort… for just another Sunday. Because, after all, that’s all it is.
Please don’t mistake me – I have no wish to diminish your joy today. In fact, quite the opposite!
Do you know why we typically worship on Sundays? After all, God’s Old Testament people worshiped on the Sabbath, on Saturday, and God gave them very good reasons to do so. Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to make an observance of the Sabbath and worship on Saturdays? (Okay, I know that at St. Paul’s we do have a worship service on Saturday nights, but it’s almost the end of the day… it’s almost Sunday anyway, right?)
The reason we worship on Sundays is because not too long after Jesus rose from death, the believers – Jews who had always worshiped on Saturdays – started calling Sunday “the Lord’s Day” and gathering together on that day to worship Jesus. They weren’t doing this in defiance of God’s Old Testament commands but because Jesus and his apostles had taught them that the requirements of the Law were put to rest by Jesus, and they were free to worship on whichever day they wished. So they naturally aimed for the day that made the most sense to them, the day that Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil was made abundantly clear.
As the Church grew, believers continued to worship on Sunday, and each Sunday was viewed by the Church as a celebration of Easter. Every Sunday was Easter Sunday!
This if why, if you’ve ever paid any attention to how things in the church year are named, you might have noticed that there are more than 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter – Sundays don’t count, and are called “Sundays in Lent” not “Sundays of Lent.” Even during Lent, Sunday is to be a celebration of Jesus’ Easter victory.
See, for those early worshipers, Easter changes everything. It wasn’t a one time event to be marked off the calendar and brought to remembrance a year later. It was an entirely new way of thinking, living, and worshiping. Celebrating the resurrection every Sunday was just another way of celebrating the fact that because of Jesus, everything had changed.
No more fly-by-night preachers and teachers rehashing the old ways.
No more rabbis reinterpreting the Law to make it more unbearable than it was before.
No more wanna-be messiahs stirring up rabble only to be forgotten.
No more waiting for the next prophet or another word from God.
A man came, claimed to be God, performed miracles, offered forgiveness of sins, died to pay for sin in a way that fulfilled in every detail all the prophecies. It almost would have been too good to be true, if not for Jesus dying.
Then he rose.
People had claimed to come from God. Some actually even spoke for him. But no one had pulled this one off before. No one had ever said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the resurrection and the life. Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days. The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” Big claims. Bold claims. Claims no one made before. Jesus not only made them, he made good on them by rising from death.
It changed everything. So worshiping on Sunday was natural. The early Christians wanted to celebrate the fact that Jesus’ resurrection changed everything, not just once a year, but every week.
I have to confess that for me, Easter usually doesn’t change everything. Most years Easter Sunday comes, I am filled with the joy of Easter for a few weeks and then… Well, my life and thinking slide back to the way they always are. I forget how incredible Jesus’ resurrection is, and I get swept up in thinking about what I need to do differently, need to do better, need to start trying harder. I get caught up in focusing on my petty problems and all too often, Sunday comes and it is… just another Sunday. A day for worship, yes, but it is distracted and sometimes self-absorbed and sometimes half-hearted.
I imagine this is true for many people. Probably true for you. Could it be that this is a symptom of assigning a special day in our year to celebrate Easter, just one Sunday out of 52 that we will focus our minds and hearts on Jesus’ resurrection? If we could keep the focus on Jesus’ resurrection 52 weeks out of the year, would it be different?
Maybe, maybe not. We all still wrestle with that human nature that wants to slide into apathy. But the amazing thing is that Easter changes that too. Think of it – wouldn’t it have actually been hard to be apathetic today? Can you walk into church when everyone is smiling and shaking hands and hugging and saying “Happy Easter!” and still just shrug your shoulders and say, “It’s just another Sunday.” I know I can’t. Even if I’m not in a great mood, Easter Sunday is the one day that all goes away so quickly.
So maybe, just maybe, if we could focus on Jesus’ resurrection every Sunday, we would find the same thing at work. What if every Sunday you walked into church, people were smiling and hugging and saying “Happy Easter!” to each other, and we sang together of Jesus’ resurrection, and the joy and cheer of who our Savior is and what he has done rang out from all of us. Might that not change things? Might that not have an impact on the rest of your week as well? Then Easter Sunday would just be another Sunday… but every Sunday would be as great as Easter Sunday!
Now, we try to make this happen. Our worship services are designed to focus us on the Risen Savior, to keep his everlasting life in perspective. But if we count on pastors and church workers and musicians alone to put that in front of us, I’m afraid we’ll find ourselves sliding away from Easter joy. Each and every one of us ought to keep this focus on Jesus’ resurrection every Sunday.
Here’s a thought: try saying “Happy Easter!” to everyone you see every time you go to church for the next year. Might confuse a few people. Not sure what would happen to the way we currently think about the church year. But it might just help bring Sunday back to what it was meant to be – a weekly celebration of the resurrection of Christ and how it changes everything.