I am a Ph.D. student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation, which includes Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. My interests are religion, politics, TV, movies, and reading.
I went to two church services on Easter Sunday. The first was the 8:30
am traditional service at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. The second
was a United Methodist church service.
Here are some of my thoughts:
A. I was expecting the 8:30 am traditional Lutheran service to consist
mostly of elderly people, and for most of the people to be dressed up. I
also was not expecting too many people to be there, as I assumed that the 11:00
am contemporary service was what drew the crowds. But the traditional
service had a full house. Most of the people there were elderly and
middle-aged, but there were some young people. And many people were not
dressed up. Some were, but the men who were not wearing a suit and tie
wore khaki pants with their shirts tucked in. (I don't recall if anyone
wore jeans.) I'll treat that as the dress code the next time I visit!
B. I was unclear about what exactly to do during the communion part of
the service. Missouri Synod Lutherans serve closed communion, which means
that not everyone can participate. I read one Missouri Synod site, and it
said the people who want to partake of communion should see the pastor
beforehand so that he can know about them and their faith. Our church
bulletin said that, if we don't participate, we can go up anyway, cross our
arms, and receive a blessing from the pastor. I was not sure how exactly
that worked, and I didn't want to do it wrong, so I stayed in my pew. I
was sitting near the back corner of the sanctuary, so I didn't expect any
awkwardness. I was quietly reading my bulletin, and an usher said,
"Excuse me." I looked up, he wanted to know if I was going up,
and I just shook my head and said "No thank you."
C. The pastor's sermon was about not being afraid. There were
two parts of his sermon that especially stood out to me. First, the
pastor was talking about the "nones," those who do not have a
religion. The pastor wondered what they were doing that Easter
morning. The pastor speculated that they were trying to get the most out
of their day, dealing with the joys and trials of life, perhaps realizing
somewhere in their minds that they would one day die. The pastor's
question struck me as rather odd, as if it was treating the "nones"
as some mysterious other. "Does he know any nones?", I
wondered. Perhaps he was raised in the Christian faith and thus had
limited familiarity with non-believers. I am only speculating here!
Second, the pastor was telling about a woman with a severe anxiety disorder
who challenged him after he preached a sermon against fear. She thought
that his sermon was making matters worse for her! She could not help that
she was afraid! My ears perked up when the pastor said this, since I
myself deal with fear, especially social anxiety. The pastor said that he
told her a story about a young man with anxiety, who got up before the
congregation and told them that his anxiety would not keep him from proclaiming
his Savior. Speaking for myself, I am more fearful of interpersonal
socializing than I am of getting up in front of a congregation, so I wonder how
what the pastor said would fit my own situation. Still, I can appreciate
his point, on some level: it's good to have someone or something that is beyond
my fear, which I can grasp.
D. I visited the United Methodist church about a year ago, after I
moved to this area. I was not expecting to be remembered after that long
a time, but I walked into the church last Sunday and an older gentleman handed
me a bulletin and said, "Did you have a good year?" I said,
"Thank you, sir," which was probably a bit off-putting, but what he
had said to me only registered with me after I had taken my seat. He
remembered me from the last time I visited!
The pastor looked a lot different from how she looked the last time I had
seen her. And I mean that I could not even tell that she was the same
person, except for her voice! I looked up at the stage and wondered where
the pastor was! She was thinner, her hair was longer and grayer, and she
was wearing a long dress rather than her pastoral robe.
E. The pastor was preaching about the different reactions to Jesus'
resurrection in the Gospels. The disciple Jesus loved (whom she assumed
was John) saw the empty tomb and believed easily. Peter was confused. Mary Magdalene wondered where Jesus'
The pastor said that, at that service, there are as many reactions to Jesus'
resurrection as there are people there. And she acknowledged that
believing in Jesus' resurrection could be difficult, since, in our experience,
the dead remain dead. That goes with people, and it goes with pets.
She asked us to consider what our response is to Jesus' resurrection, and,
maybe this coming week, we can try to have a little more faith.
I liked the openness of that sermon. I have inside of myself different
reactions to Jesus' resurrection, positive and negative. It can be used
to support Christian exclusivism, which says that non-believers go to hell, and
that frightens me. But I appreciate the story itself: the disciples were
saddened by Jesus' death, both because they lost their friend, teacher, and
Messiah, and also because it looked as if evil and corruption had won
out. But it didn't, for Jesus rose.