Bystanders gawking as the cross passes

Published 9:40 pm Sunday, April 9, 2023

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Maybe you’ve seen the cartoon. A pastor stands at the church door greeting worshippers. Presumably, the service has just concluded. A couple stands with the pastor, shaking his hand. The husband’s mouth is open, so the caption gives us his words. “Pastor, you’re really stuck in a rut. Every time we attend, you preach on the same thing.” 

Of course, a glance at the church’s sign in the cartoon gives viewers the punchline. The words “Easter Sunday” are on display right next to the couple. They haven’t been back to church since last year. 

We have entered Holy Week. The Church is alive on a global scale with preparations for the big day. Easter approaches this week, with hearts attuned to all the festivities and pageantry it can offer. 

The crowd is always noticeably larger on Easter. I’ll take ‘em when I can get ‘em. So, I have to be happy about that. 

Somewhere on ground level, I wonder though. I wonder if some of the true priorities and meaning get increasingly lost each year in all the hubbub? I wonder if many of us tend to take our eyes off the figurative ball at Easter

If the store displays and the online ads are any indicator, then the sales of pastel colored clothing and Easter basket supplies are humming right along. There’s no doubt that Easter is big business. At one store we visited lately, there must have been no less than a half-dozen varieties of “grass” one could use to festoon these decorative baskets. Even edible Easter grass is available. 

You know what seems tougher to sell? Getting folks to remember that there’s a sacred story behind this fun little holiday. It’s a tough sale trying to get people to actually show up at things the church offers year-round that anchor Easter in its proper religious context. 

This week, we’ll observe Maundy Thursday with a church wide meal and worship service that night. On Good Friday, we’ll darken our chapel and offer a Tenebrae service. That is a service of increasingly darkened light, filled with scripture and prayer. Guess what people say especially of Good Friday. “I don’t like that as much as Easter. The story is so sad and the room is dark. It’s not uplifting.” 

No, I don’t suppose Jesus getting arrested, crucified and ultimately killed was very uplifting for him either. Except in the most ironic use of the very word uplifting as an unintended pun. 

This suffering servant was foretold hundreds of years before Jesus’ arrival. Evidently, no one believed Isaiah, though. As Jesus finally arrived, still they looked for a military and political strongman. Our Lord simply didn’t fit the bill. 

Then, as Jesus did develop a following and a reputation, his own people rejected him. So, really, did humanity. That’s the bigger picture. That’s you and me. We all did, in the larger picture. Predictably, as the Christ began to whisper to his most ardent followers that his time for sacrifice was drawing near, they rejected that notion too. 

I can grieve about a larger culture that has little use for the church and for attending the church. You would expect that. What I may grieve even more is that people in churches worldwide are losing their appetite for the tougher parts of our own Christian story. 

Like Simon of Cyrene, I wonder if Christians would rather stand on the sidelines as bystanders. But then become shocked when they find out there’s an actual cross to carry? They seem surprised, at times, when life asks them to take a turn doing as Jesus has done. 

Jesus huddled with the Twelve just before his arrest. He looked his closest followers in the eye and said, “A new command I give you. That you love one another as I have loved you.” 

Bystanders who intend only to gawk as the cross passes will hear those words and think they only pertain to the Twelve. True disciples understand that this new command was for all of time. It was for all of us. Easter begs of us to take up Jesus’ cross daily. 

That means if I am to love the one another around me, I’m supposed to do so as Jesus did. Now, the messy work of carrying his cross becomes apparent. Now, the call impacts how I am supposed to look beyond myself and my enculturation. Now the call makes me look past the god I have fashioned after myself, and to gaze upon the Living Jesus instead. 

 Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.