Is Easter a Big Deal?

Should Christians make a big deal out of Easter?  Should Pagans go all out for Beltane?  Are special holidays worth the trouble?  

Here’s an interesting essay by Bruce Reyes-Chow, a Presbyterian minister who’s calling on his congregation to “Stop Making a Big Deal Out of Easter Worship.” He calls it “activity that ends up with people who are burned out and a worship service that looks nothing like the service that is held on a normal Sunday,” says that “we too often put on a ‘show’ for visitors rather than invite them to experience the community that is the church” and that “most churches perpetuate the practice of coming to church only on special days because we have, in fact, said that this day is more worthy than any others.”

I don’t know anything about Rev. Reyes-Chow’s church, but it sounds like they’re heavily focused on recruitment. There’s nothing wrong with that – all organizations have to attract new members on a regular basis to at least make up for those who die, move away, or drop out. Growth is good, but few if any people will join on the basis of one service no matter how good (or bad) it is. Christmas and Easter Christians (and Beltane and Samhain Pagans – I’m sure every path has their equivalent) don’t turn out only twice a year because those are the only fun services. They turn out only twice a year because their faith isn’t very important to them.

I think Rev. Reyes-Chow means well, but he’s missing the point: churches should make a big deal out of Easter because Easter is a big deal for the people already in the churches.

No matter what our spiritual path, we need holidays: holy days, special days, days when we put aside the ordinary and pick up the extraordinary. Special days encourage us to practice our faith more intensely: think of Christians observing 40 days of somber Lent, followed by the celebration of Easter. Think of Muslims observing the fasts of Ramadan. Think of Pagans celebrating the sensuality of Beltane or exploring the depths of Samhain. If we try to do these things all the time we’ll burn ourselves out or we’ll ignore other important practices and observances, but we can – and should – do them for a short time.

I would tell Rev. Reyes-Chow that if his church has truly gone overboard on Easter (as so many do around Christmas), then gently nudge the congregation back toward sanity, focusing on the things that make it truly special.

But what to keep and what to drop should be determined by what’s meaningful for the people who have made a year-round commitment, not by what may or may not look appealing to people who only think about going to church twice a year.

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  • With all due respect, Dr. Reyes-Chow appears to be totally ignorant of the liturgical history of the Christian Church. Pascha (and not Christmas, by the way) is the chief feast of the liturgical year, and it has been celebrated with the corresponding ceremonial since the earliest times. For example, it was (and is) at the Easter/Pascha liturgy that catechumens were (and are) received into the Church with the rites of Baptism and Chrismation

    If the good Pastor is dissatisfied with "pageants and brass," with Easter-egg hunts and the men's breakfast (which have nothing to do with worship as such), perhaps he might check out the rites that are observed by the so-called "liturgical" churches (such as the Roman, Anglican, and Orthodox Churches) to find some inspiration. The Wikipedia article on "Easter Vigil" might be a good place to start.

  • >They turn out only twice a year because their faith isn’t very important to them.

    Not sure I agree with you on that John. From my perspective, attendance for church services or rituals is not a good measure of the importance of an individual's faith in their lives.

  • Tommy, let's just say that my experience hasn't matched yours.

    You can be a good, ethical person on your own. You can be a spiritual person on your own. You can certainly be an effective magician on your own. But it's very difficult (not impossible, but pretty close) to be a religious person on your own. The word origin speaks of this: "re-ligare" – "to reconnect, to bind". So much of religion involves community and our relationships to and within that community.

    I know you well enough to think that you may be the rare exception to this rule. But the vast majority of people I know who don't regularly practice their religion in a group setting simply aren't very religious.