by Loren Seibold | 1 April 2018 |
When I was growing up, my family didn’t celebrate Christ’s resurrection, as such.
We did have family Easter events, mostly having to do with coloring eggs, and hiding and finding candy. Sometimes grandpa and grandma came over and we had supper together, because it was a holiday, after all. But I don’t remember any mention of Christ coming forth from death. Even on the Sabbath before Easter the resurrection could go entirely unremarked in the church service.
That is not to say that we didn’t believe in the resurrection. But it wasn’t mentioned all that much. That particular belief was (though we may not have said it this forthrightly) sullied, soiled, by its association with Roman Catholics and apostate Protestantism. We talked a lot about how Sabbath was the true day of rest and Sunday the counterfeit. We remembered all the times our neighbors had told us that they went to church on Sunday because that was the day of the week Jesus came forth from death. We knew they were deceived and would be lost for it. We knew a lot of people went to church only on Easter Sunday, which we laughed at as evidence of the feebleness of their Christian commitment, that they would be so foolish as to think God would be satisfied with such a craven, pusillanimous expression of faith.
As I think back on it, I find it almost unbearably sad that we didn’t talk more about Jesus’ resurrection. We weren’t put off by eggs and bunnies and candy, all of which have an undeniably pagan provenance; but we were afraid of crucifixes and Catholics and error. Catholics were, in a sense, more important than Christ; our potential enemies more to be attended to than the sources of our hope.
I am grateful that in the Sabbath Schools of my childhood we learned, too, all of the good lessons about Jesus: that he was kind and generous, that he loved children, that he heard our prayers. But even in those earliest years, the darkness of our faith could creep in, like a black mist. I remember the day that my Primary Sabbath School teacher went into a long discourse on the close of probation. It was one of the scariest things I heard in my childhood, the possibility that I’d be going on happily as can be but in fact my prayers were no longer heard, my sins no longer forgivable. It cast a much longer shadow than Jesus did.
That is to say, even when we sang about Jesus and talked about God’s love, the scary parts of our faith always crowded in on us a little more closely than the hopeful parts. The resurrection was merely one more story about Jesus in the Bible. But what dominated the adults’ religious discussions (and we heard them, too) had more to do with what we were right about and others wrong; about what threatened us more than what gave us hope.
In the early Advent movement, the believers spoke of Jesus’ return as “the blessed hope.” It was never that to me. It would be, of course, nice to be in a that perfect place, to pet lions and never be sick and eat those amazing fruits from the Tree of Life. But there were so many contingencies to that ever being realized, that it was almost impossible to realistically expect. First, you had to be perfect, and I wasn’t. Then, there were the threats. Even your pastor was going to turn against you, perhaps even your parents, they said. The Roman Catholics had torture chambers in their church basements, and when we drove by our Catholic neighbors’ houses, my mother would occasionally feel the need to mention that these very people would turn against us at the time of the end. Probation was about to close, or it was already closed without our knowing it. Time and again we were warned that there was no security of salvation anyway: it was arrogant to say “I know I am saved.” You could only hope you might possibly be saved, and that not until the Catholics had persecuted you for merely being a Seventh-day Adventist.
All of which added up to a very good chance of suffering, and a rather slim chance of being saved. We have been far better at celebrating fear than hope; indeed, our message has more to do with terror than with happy endings. Skim through The Great Controversy and note how much of the book is about the problems, the obstacles, the doubts, the persecutions, the oppositions—and that only about four pages at the very end are about the joy of being with the Lord!
I don’t know for sure that our acknowledging Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday could, at this late date, overbalance all of that; but it surely would be a step in the right direction. It seems to me now that there’s nothing more important in all of Christian theology than the resurrection. Read through the book of Acts, noting how frequently the resurrection is the anchor for the Christian hope of those first believers. Jesus’ return is there, too, and bits of atonement theology. But it’s the resurrection that dominates it all.
I don’t find much meaning (I confess honestly) in some of the atonement theologies; I’m confused by the human sacrifice notions embedded there, that we worship a God who has to kill someone before he’s ready to forgive our sins. I don’t know why God let Jesus be killed, but this I know: that to see someone who was wholly dead—no heartbeat, brain dead, putrescing flesh—come alive again in the full freshness of health, is a miracle that I want to see, and want to see again and again until I am surrounded on all sides by all the people I love who have passed on.
Some years ago, in a big church where I was the pastor, I initiated an Easter Sunday service and invited the community. Some people came from the community, but most of our own church members stayed away. I only got a crowd, I once said, because I insisted the choir be there. It didn’t survive my leaving that church, and I never attempted to introduce it again in the churches I pastored. Several church members told me quite bluntly that I was bringing heresy into God’s church by allowing it to happen.
I disagree. I wish Seventh-day Adventists would introduce Easter Sunday into our worship repertoire. We have celebrated Christmas with fairly little question (even Ellen White was in favor of that) even though we don’t know at what time of year Jesus was born. The date of Easter we know quite accurately, because of its association with Passover. And are we not wise enough by now to distinguish between celebrating the resurrection of Christ (which was undoubtedly on a Sunday) and making Sunday our day of worship?
Years ago I knew a dear Armenian woman in my congregation who one Easter said to me, “Pastor, something I miss is that when I was a girl, we greeted one another on Easter weekend with the phrase ‘Christ is risen,’ and the response was ‘Christ was risen indeed!’” I asked the congregation to do it for her sake, and she loved it. And so did we.
And so I say to you today, dear Adventist Today readers: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Let us set aside our fear, and live in hope!
Loren Seibold is a pastor and the Executive Editor of Adventist Today