In Central Maine, especially where I live on a tranquil Maine lake, it feels like we are still very much in the grip of winter. There’s still plenty of snow on the ground, temperatures are chilly, and the lake doesn’t show any open water anywhere near our shore—it’s just one giant slab of ice. The calendar may declare that we are about in the middle of April, and well into spring, but it looks a lot more like February from my kitchen window.
I find myself also feeling at least a bit as if I’m in the midst of winter in the small church that I serve. Despite having declared just a week and a half ago that “He is Risen!” and “He is Risen Indeed!” it doesn’t much feel like Easter has taken any hold on most of my congregation. It feels like they are still in the midst of winter.
The Sunday after Easter (which happened to be last Sunday) is one of the Sundays of the year that I usually look forward to. Easter so often seems weird and disorientating. Such a quiet, intimate story blown up so large and loud, with the ambitious, potent tune of Christ the Lord is Risen Today and the sanctuary almost as full as Christmas Eve. Somehow, it doesn’t really work, considering the Gospel stories of the first Easter, when there was so much confusion and fear and not a lot of people. I like the Sunday after Easter, when all of the “extras” have tucked themselves back into their normal Sunday routines, away from worship.
This year, on the Sunday after Easter, I didn’t get the feeling that I usually do, of satisfaction and connection. Easter, I declared to the congregation, is really for us, for those of us who get up and go to church on the Sunday after Easter. Easter is for those of us who stick around, for that’s one of the ways through which we experience the risen Christ.
Yet, last Sunday, as I was offering what I thought to be a happy and even invigorating message—sure, we may be small, but we’re the ones who stick around, we’re the ones ready to experience the risen Christ—it was hard not to notice that most of the congregation didn’t exactly seem with me.
I could see at least one person struggling to stay awake. Another looked angry. And a few others just looked blank.
I wasn’t sure what to do. Stop the sermon and ask them what was going on, what were they thinking, why didn’t they feel engaged with this message? It was tempting, but I didn’t. I stumbled to the end. And though it was very quiet at the end of the sermon, which in a northern New England Congregational Church often means that the congregation likes the sermon, something seemed amiss.
For the last several days, I’ve been thinking about last Sunday and wondering about what it all meant. I wonder, sometimes, if there are people at Old South who just prefer being “winter” people, that they just are not all that interested in experiencing the “spring” of the risen Christ. They are older, and mostly settled in who they are and what’s important to them. Whether or not they can identify an experience of the risen Christ in the past, they are not all that interested at this point in their lives.
They just want to stick to the routine, and ensure that the building will be operational, and there’s a pastor in the pulpit, until . . . well, until they reach the end of their earthly life.
Thankfully, it’s not everyone. On Sunday, there were a few with animated faces (yes! I’m here! I stuck around! I might experience the risen Christ!), but there weren’t many of them.
In the middle of this April, it’s still winter—inside and out. My hope is that the risen Christ will still find a way to surprise us, to make himself known in the midst of our little congregation in the middle of Maine. We are sticking around, after all.