Witness

How I Learned to Love the Easter Parking Lot

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I used to hate Easter.

It wasn’t because I was anti-Jesus or anti-resurrection—in fact, I believed everything about Jesus that happened on Easter was true and I was totally happy about it. It wasn’t because of the “secularized” holiday traditions; in fact, I loved the Easter Bunny and the candy he brought, especially my coveted Starburst jellybeans. It wasn’t because of family gatherings or having to wear a dress for church or even going to church for that matter.

What I actually hated were the crowds of people.

Rethinking Crowds

As a family who went to church together every week, Easter and Christmas were the two holidays when we’d actually have to get there early to get a seat—and a parking space. The “two-timers” or “Chreasters” or whatever name people call those who go to church only on holidays made the Easter worship experience uncomfortable, loud, and hot.

We, the regulars, felt like we were there for the “right” reason—to worship Christ in response to the resurrection, while the others were checking a box and looking pretty. There was no “good” time to go to church to miss it– Easter Sunday Mass always was complete chaos. Even the priests made comments: “we’re open every Sunday,” “it’d be great to see you all next week,” “It’s nice to see a full church.”

Years later, as a pastor, I love Easter for pretty much the same reason I first hated it.

Easter is about coming back, after all.

I love Easter crowds. Easter is about coming back after all. Click To Tweet

Throw a Party…Like Jesus

The parking issues remind me of how Jesus invited everybody to join him for lunch, even though the Pharisees would wag their fingers. It’s like what happens when everybody you invited to a house party shows up—and you live on a cul-de-sac. They take up the neighbors’ spots, park in front of the basketball net, and arrive late, but that’s what asphalt is for, and you always make room for them.

The people who just come for the egg hunt remind me of the 5000 men plus women and children who gathered by Jesus on the hillside at dinnertime. The disciples wanted to send them away, but Jesus fed them anyway. It’s like what happens on free Rita’s or free IHOP or free Dairy Queen Day. Some people just stick with the free cone, but everybody leaves with a good taste in their mouths.

The hot and crowded worship center reminds me of the house where Jesus was teaching when a disabled man’s friends lowered him through the roof. In that close, stuffy setting, a miracle took place. It’s like what happens in a sold-out theatrical show. There tends to be a powerful moment when everyone is giving the standing ovation when something happens inside you—and you can’t even put your finger on it.

Teaching Through Unfamiliarity

The unfamiliarity of prayers, songs, and church in general for some folks reminds me of how Jesus took his own disciples aside and used it as a teaching moment. He gave them instructions on how to pray. It’s like what happens when a caring teacher helps a student translate a sentence, and you can see the lightbulb finally go on.

The pastor’s Easter sermon reminds me of how Jesus stood at the close of the Feast of Tabernacles, declaring “I am the Light of the world.” He took what had been an old religious tradition and ignited it with new meaning. It’s like what happens when a modern band brings back an old song—and makes it better than ever.

Next Sunday

It’s true—many churches will be packed this Sunday that will be more than half empty a week later. There will be parking problems and neighborhood kids showing up just for the egg hunt and a hot and stuffy worship center and people who don’t know what to do or where to go and a sermon topic many hear year after year. But in a society where the Church has moved to the margins and Jesus is just an option along the buffet line, Easter is less of a gathering of a religious club and more of an opportunity to connect with people like Jesus did. Maybe we—the “religious” people—need to be the ones to visit Easter a second time.

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And we just might have an opportunity to witness something unexpected in both us and those who come back.

Perhaps even a resurrection.

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