Any normal Easter Sunday usually involves a fair number of exclamation points: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Etc.
As I prepared for Easter Sunday worship this year, it felt like the exclamation point had run amok, taking over every aspect of the holy day. Looking for inspiration for the opening of worship, exclamation points were everywhere, sometimes at the end of every statement that was offered for a suggested Call to Worship or an Invocation/Opening Prayer.
Easter Sunday certainly deserves an exclamation point, or two, but should every statement end with this particular punctuation mark?
While our approach to Easter is deeply connected to the fuller and longer story of the resurrection and its aftermath, it’s a shame that we don’t devote more time, attention and reflection on the early morning stories of the first Easter. Most Christian services, especially those that follow the lectionary, include one of the early morning stories. Yet, there’s actually not much focus on what’s really going on in those stories that capture the mood of the first Easter morning.
I think the exclamation points may be blocking our view.
In the early morning stories, there’s fear, confusion, grief, mistaken identity and, in the case of Mark, terror. All of these reactions could be accompanied by exclamation points, but these are not the reactions incorporated in your average Easter Sunday morning worship service. Calls to Worship don’t usually offer things like: I’m afraid! I’m afraid indeed! I’m confused! I’m confused indeed!
It is in the confusion, grief and fear that we could explore and reflect on how the Risen Christ comes to us now. For congregations whose sanctuaries that are no longer full on Easter Sunday morning (whether in person or online) and where the average age is in the range of retirement, the triumphant mood conveyed by the onslaught of exclamation points impedes our ability to spend some quality time in that space where confusion, grief, fear and mistaken identity are clearly communicated in the scripture story.
For many who remain faithful to churches that were once at the center of community life but are now struggling and feeling sidelined, much could be gained by delaying the rush to exclaim our excitement and instead, allowing ourselves to express our disorientation, a theme that is a significant component of the Gospel accounts of the first Easter morning. Many of us are feeling confused and disoriented. We are also grieving. And, we are certainly fearful, although many are not eager to lift up that sentiment.
Spending time in the midst of scripture that so compellingly details confusion, fear and grief would be a good process for many of us who are becoming—whether we like or not—well acquainted with these feelings. The stories of the first Easter morning articulate a clear sense that the difficult feelings that people like Mary Magdalene experienced helped to open the way for the joyous realization of the resurrection.
We ought not, then, skip over the reality of the fear, confusion and grief, propelling ourselves into the forest of exclamation points. In the dimness of the first Easter morning, the seeds of hope, joy and new life find fertile soil. It could be fertile soil for us as well, if we endeavor to keep the deluge of noisy exclamation points at bay.