Today is the Wednesday after Easter. Did you go to church like most everyone else?
I did, and boy am I paying for it! I preached a barnstormer of a sermon on Sunday—like most every pastor in the world, I gave it everything I had. In fact, I may have given it a little too much. Because today I sit here in my big comfy chair, pulling Kleenex tissues out of the box like you’d toss popcorn into your mouth.
Yeah, I’m sick as a dog after Easter.
I get these respiratory infections usually after times of stress. I actually felt it coming on a few days before, but was determined to power through it. So on Sunday, I probably really did give it 110%, and now I’m paying back the deficit.
We had a great crowd, as did most churches. It’s always great to have a day when the church is full, and even the new people seemed sincerely excited by the sermon. However, the big indicator of the Christian life is not, “What did you do on Easter Sunday?”
The real question for all the people who attended church last Sunday is, “What did you do after Easter?”
I’ve always hated it when pastors will get up on Easter Sunday and say something like, “Well, it sure is nice to see all you folks again from Christmas. Just so you know, we have services in the weeks in between those two holidays as well…” (awkward laughter ensues, as guests start counting the minutes until they can leave).
Nothing makes you feel more at home than a nice guilt trip when you finally decided to give church a chance again, right?
I actually feel bad for folks who only go to church twice a year. While I in no way believe church attendance takes you to heaven, I do know for sure that something huge must be missing in their lives. I realize most of them would say they really love God and are Christians, but in truth I’m just not buying it. It’s pretty simple: if you love sports, you go to sporting events. If you love opera, you go to the opera.
It’s pretty simple: if you love sports, you go to sporting events. If you love opera, you go to the opera…
…and if you love God, you go to church. Boom. There, I said it.
So when people don’t feel the need to attend church, it’s an indication they’re missing out on something wonderful I get to experience. No, I’m not talking just about church. Sometimes church is wonderful, and sometimes not.
What they miss out on is truly being head-over-heals in love with a living God. Because if they were, wild horses (or church hypocrites, or whatever excuse they use) couldn’t keep them from worshipping him.
Since I’m a pastor who stays out around people, I get to talk with a lot of folks outside the church about God. In fact, I rarely ever bring it up on my own—they’re usually the ones who ask me first. Most of them claim to be quite fond of God in their own way.
But after they finish talking, I usually ask myself, “Do they really know him?”
You see, if they really knew him, they wouldn’t talk about him quite so casually. When I talk about God, my eyes light up, my respiration increases (even today, when I’m not actually doing that much breathing), and my speech gets quite rapid.
But these friends talk about God much like you’d talk about your political party, or your favorite restaurant, or your preferred style of music…only they often speak with more passion about those things than God.
One friend asked me recently if I’d baptize him. What an honor, and my enthusiasm about conducting that ceremony almost got in the way of asking a very important question: “For you, what does baptism mean? Are you saying you wish to follow Christ, or are you just wanting to feel more religious? Are you forsaking everything and throwing yourself on the mercy of the cross? Do you really know him?”
I don’t ask any of this in a judgmental sort of way, but like a doctor would ask questions of his patient before making a diagnosis. Without knowing the symptoms, it’s hard to know the right prescription. And baptism…or communion…or whatever other religious ritual won’t do any good if you haven’t first surrendered yourself to the God of whom those other things are just symbols.
Coming to Easter services, or getting baptized, or taking communion—none of those mean anything on their own. That’s why folks leave without feeling any different afterward, because they’ve only accepted a set of beliefs instead of having met the everlasting God himself.
I guess that’s why I don’t pay too much attention to the Easter Sunday crowd. It’s nice, but I know it won’t last. Next Sunday, I’ll be back to the people who are there not because of a holiday, but just because they love Jesus like I do.
So if your encounter with Jesus is a subtle one, chances are you haven’t really met the real Jesus yet. The real Jesus has a way of tipping over tables, touching lepers, and rolling stones away from dead lives. Subtly was never something of which he was accused.
After that first Easter, Jesus very clearly expected them to surrender their lives to him, completely. In the years that followed, every apostle save one was martyred because he was unwilling to deny the resurrection of Christ (John possibly being the only one allowed to die of old age).
Why should we think Jesus would expect anything less from us today?
I have a very dear friend who I can tell is afraid to talk with me about God. He avoids Jesus like you would a Jehovah’s Witness lurking at your front door. Spiritually, he’s turning off all the lights and pretending not to be home. When the subject comes up, he acts like it’s no big deal, but I know it really is. I honestly feel no judgment towards him at all…only sadness for what he’s missing.
That’s what’s in my mind as I think back over that congregation I saw on Sunday morning: “I only wish you knew what you were missing”.
The crowd that only walks into church on Easter Sunday are really like the Walking Dead: they don’t even realize they’re not alive yet. They think religion is just a list of beliefs one must ascribe to. They think they’ve done so, and that’s all there is to Christianity. And since nothing’s changed for them, there must be nothing more to this Jesus stuff.
But the promise of Easter is that one day they too can rise from the dead. And that can happen any day of the year, so don’t be too concerned if you missed church last Sunday. It’s every day after Easter that really matters!
Hopefully, I’ll be well enough by this Sunday to keep plugging away in that effort, inviting you to encounter a resurrected Jesus.
If you do, you’ll know what I know…and you’ll want to live for him not just on Christmas and Easter, but on every single day of the year.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.