Old South the Musical or Old South the Opera?

Are we comedy or tragedy?

One of the most important Sundays on the church calendar for me is the Sunday after Easter. That’s when I get the best sense of the state of the church I’ve served for almost fifteen years.

After all of the thrill and spectacle of Easter Sunday, when the choir sings and the bell choir performs and the sanctuary is decked out in the spring colors of tulips and daffodils and the occasional hydrangea (we discourage lilies as several members of the choir are allergic) and we gladly claim “He Is Risen” and “He Is Risen Indeed,” we can finally get to a more realistic sense of Easter on the Sunday after Easter. It’s a strange thing, after all, to try to make Easter into a Christmas-like extravaganza. Christmas has the long list of characters, with the choir of angels and the visit from afar of the exotic magi.

For Easter, we yearn for something similar, especially for those of us living in a place like Maine. As Christmas offers an opportunity for a celebratory way of dealing with the onset of winter, Easter ought to allow for a celebration not only for the coming of spring, but the survival of another long, brutal winter (which often feels still very much present even when Easter is in late April). We replace Christmas poinsettias with spring flowers, the green and red of Christmas with pastels, and “O Come All Ye Faithful” with “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (the older version, thank you very much).

But it just doesn’t come off very well. Easter really doesn’t lend itself to the big celebration. The Gospel accounts offer no great cast of characters. There’s no angel choir, no visit of strangers from a faraway land, no young couple huddled up in a barn with a bunch of smelly, but adorable, animals. Instead, Easter offers an empty tomb, a few frightened close friends, and the small murmurings of something wondrous, but very strange. According to John, Mary Magdalene doesn’t even recognize the Risen Christ at first. She thinks he’s the gardener. It’s only when he speaks her name that she realizes who’s standing in front of her.

For those of us who are not CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only), the big celebratory atmosphere of Easter feels a little, if not a lot, odd.

It’s the Sunday after Easter when I get a real sense of the state of Old South, and a very real glimpse of who has also heard their name called by Jesus in a quiet, unexpected moment.

This year, as I have done in the past, I took the opportunity, on the Sunday after Easter, to note the strange way that we deal with Easter. But, also recognized that what actually happens on the first Easter, according to the Gospel writers, doesn’t make for especially good  worship.   Would anyone want to gather for Easter worship and shout out things like: “We are fearful. We are fearful indeed.” “We are doubting. Praise God for doubt!” “Lock the doors and be quick about it.” “We are confused. Alleluia and Amen to that.”

On the Sunday after Easter, when those who attend church only rarely are gone, when our normal small group is back, we can say those things. And, this year we did. We said out loud those things that we feel: “I have doubts!” and “I am fearful.”

And we said them over and over again.

After the worship service, one long-time member wondered what it would have been like if we had put those phrases to music. And, wondered more about other lyrics that could go along with those sentiments.

Then a few others joined us and we had quite an animated conversation that led to the question: is this a musical or an opera? Is this comedy or tragedy?

Both, I would say. And more.

We are a small church, and getting smaller—although, thankfully, not stagnant (we have a few new members in our midst). But, we aren’t likely to survive into the indefinite future.

Yet, we are a community of faith, a church. We are a group of people committed to, though still a little wary of, Easter and what it means for us not only to gather on that one glorious day, but to be together for all of the other days as well. And, in that, there is both comedy and tragedy. And everything in between.

The road we travel is not an easy one. There is confusion and fear, doubt and trepidation. Just like those first disciples experienced.

So we press on, keeping our ears and hearts open to the voice of the Risen Christ and singing along to the lyric and rhythm of faith. It may not be completely harmonious, but it is wondrous and wonderful.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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