I vividly remember one particular Easter Sunday many years ago. I was young, and honestly, had gone to church out of perceived obligation rather than a desire to celebrate the Resurrection. (See: Why I Stopped Going to Church)
In fact, I didn’t even really understand, or appreciate, the significance of the day.
Regardless, to me, it seemed like a pretty typical Easter service…lots of families and pastel colors. And after a few songs, it was time for the pastor’s sermon.
(Finally! Let’s get this party started so we can go get some ham!)
“Happy Easter,” he began.
“And let me tell some of you ‘Merry Christmas’ because I won’t see you again until next year.”
Wait, what did he just say?
Oh sure, there were a few chuckles in the room. I probably even smirked knowing I had once resembled that remark. But even though I was young and wasn’t quite sure what it was yet, I knew something wasn’t right about that statement.
At some point though, it finally hit me…
I realized, as tongue-in-cheek as it may have been, that comment was aimed at making people feel guilty about not going to church.
Ironic…because Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, is about removing guilt. It’s about celebrating the fact that Jesus paid a debt we could never repay so that we wouldn’t have to bare the burden of guilt.
Unfortunately, people often think of church as that place you go where folks make you feel bad about yourself.
But that really isn’t the case at all! Sometimes people do that…God doesn’t do that. You see, God may be about conviction, but He’s not about guilt and shame.
Guilt and shame make you want to crawl back in the bed and hide. Conviction makes you want to run out the front door in hopes of doing better the next time.
I promise you God doesn’t want you to crawl into bed and hide. He has too many great things planned for you!
I tell you this story, not to bash that pastor (I didn’t even know him that well), but to remind us all to put guilt in our rearview mirrors!
So, on Easter, please don’t say Merry Christmas. Let’s leave our preconceived notions about others at the door.
Also, don’t worry if someone is sitting in “your seat,” and don’t huff if you have to park a little further out than usual.
Make people feel welcome instead. Rejoice because they are there! Show them His love. Smile, shake someone’s hand, give ’em a hug, and help them feel comfortable. Maybe they’ll come back a second time…and a third and a fourth…
You know, whether this Easter will be your first or your seventieth, the message is the same. Christ died for you because He loves you! Yes, you! And now, He’s alive! So go celebrate that with someone you’ve known your whole life or maybe even someone you haven’t seen since Christmas!