Pastor Mike Hayes (Covenant Church, Dallas) had the following to say on a pastors' Passion Week conference call yesterday. I jotted these words down as quickly as I could, they are not verbatim but pretty close.
Easter is the only-one-of-its-kind celebration. No other holy-day celebrates the defeat of death, no other holy day celebrates that God will make all things new. No other holy-day celebrates the promises that our earthly bodies, heavenly spirits, and eternal souls will be resurrected into perfection. No other holy day has such eyewitness confirmation and historical assuredness of a coming reality to hope in. And what proof is there that this isn't some pie-in-the-sky whimsical wishing? In a word, Jesus. Easter is not the celebration of the possibilities for the human race. Easter is the celebration of the realities of the human race. The Creator has raised up a human, from the dead, who forever lives. Jesus Christ's resurrection is a prototype of God's future for a superhumanity promised to all those who receive this grace.
As he spoke, I had chills. I sat down and asked myself, "How can I make the celebration fully worshipful this year?" This is what I came up with for my family.
Know the Why. At the heart of Easter is this realization: God, the Creator, loves us so much that he has entered into history, to make this love plain, in human and flesh terms. Easter means that God no longer needs to be mediated through dreams, visions, angels, seers and prophets, but that he is speaking, behaving, and relating to us human-to-human. Easter is the culmination of the expansive reach of God's love--through a life well-lived, an honorable death, and a shocking twist to the story, a resurrection--which says this love does not end at the parting waters of death, this love brings us back to life. Feeling the love of God leads to worship that is heart-felt and emotional.
Know the what. The depth of joy and the height of excitement is in proportion to my understanding of the resurrection event. If I only see it as pastel easter eggs and chocolate bunnies then its depth will go about as deep as the dye on my fingers and be about as empty as a $3 hollow chocolate bunny. I like to think of Easter in three linear progressions--its something that has already happened, in that God has raised up Jesus; and that believers presently are experiencing that life in our mortal existences. In other words, Jesus did not merely come to give us life after death, but life before death; and that one day our bodies, existences and spirits will morph into an eternal ray of resurrection life. This is cause to celebrate the past, present and future. N.T. Wright's discussion on this can expand one's understanding in ways that lead to worshiping God with our thoughts and cognitive capacities.
Know the How. The first celebration primarily involved sharing the good news. The first celebration was a handful of devoted women racing to the unbelieving disciples with the good news. The second celebration was the Emmaus Road travellers hurrying back late, at night, to celebrate their resurrection experience with the believing disciples. The third celebration involved a room of believers and unbelievers and resulted in the unbeliever falling on his knees in worship. The celebration in each case was (1) in community, (2) declaring the good news of the resurrection, (3) people coming to faith, (4) knees being bent in worship. And in every case the resurrected Christ was present--sometimes in full awareness and sometimes the disciples were completely unaware; but in all cases Jesus was there.
If we want our Easter worship to be practical, tangible, actionable then that happens when we share Jesus's resurrection with not-yet-believers in the context of the community of faith. Or to be plain, when we invite not-yet-believes into a gathering of believers where the resurrection will be proclaimed something magical (I don't mean to use this word fictitiously) happens. Jesus Christ will be there in the thick of his people, whether the worship gathering is liturgical, traditional, or contemporary is not determinative of his Presence, he is there for people. Whether its a house church, mega-church, or community church he has no preference, he is there for people. He doesn't show up for our productions or methodologies; he shows up in the believers, in their worship, in their proclamation; and He will be experienced in all his resurrected glory in the midst of two or three gathered in his name.
Run, Mary! lift thy heavenly voice;
Cry, cry, and heed not how;
Make all the new-risen world rejoice-
Its first apostle thou!
--George McDonald, "Mary Magdalene"