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.