"The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever."
-- I Peter 1:24-25
On the Sunday after Easter a few years ago, the young woman who gave the children's sermon at our church used a near-dead flower to illustrate her presentation. The faded, purple bloom had been part of a lovely bouquet the Sunday before, but in just a week's time this flower's beauty was reduced to a memory.
I'm not sure the children, fewer in number than usual, understood the message of the faded bloom. But we adults, also fewer in number than the week before, knew exactly what she meant. Church attendance the Sunday after Easter -- even if it weren't the beginning of Master's week -- is always down. "Slump Sunday," some call it to explain the empty pews and general letdown felt by ministers and members alike after the hype of the week before.
Why does this happen? Pastors preach their finest sermons on Easter, music is flawlessly prepared, flowers are more beautiful than ever, and those new outfits in the congregation dress the sanctuary in colors to match. Why wouldn't we want such an aura to last?
One pastor offers this explanation: "We thought if we came to church on Easter, dressed better, sang louder, and listened with expectant ears, we'd feel something that would make a difference in our lives. Nothing changed because we were expecting the wrong thing."
I could understand the faded flower analogy. At least I know what happens to flowers after they've been cut from their roots or removed from a water-filled vase, and I could see the comparison between the flower and a church member who had been removed from the nourishment of the church. Any living thing fades when its lifeline is cut off. But why is this so noticeable right after Easter? Is the pastor who said we celebrate the holiday for the wrong reasons right?
Perhaps psychologists are right when they tell us anticipation and dread are two emotions that rarely live up to our expectations. We fear much that doesn't turn out as bad as we expected -- pain in the dentist's chair, the speech we must give, the storm that doesn't come -- and pin unrealistic hopes on new homes, jobs, cars, or a long-awaited vacation. Could those unrealistic hopes also include Easter?
The disciples didn't expect what happened on the first Easter, either. Jesus said he would return to them within days of the crucifixion, but they didn't believe him. Then, when he did appear, they were thunderstruck. Thomas, who wasn't present at the first sighting, wasn't convinced when the others tried to tell him they had seen the Lord.
"Unless I see the nail prints in his hands and put my hand into his wounded side, I will not believe" (John 20:24-25), he said, moments before Jesus appeared again and called the doubter's bluff.
"My Lord and my God!" Thomas cried, as he saw and touched, and dropped to his knees in belief.
We don't have the luxury of Thomas and others who didn't believe Jesus had risen until they saw him in person, but we do have the record. We didn't see George Washington assume the first presidency of the United States, but we have that record, too. And just as the country needed only one first president, the world needed only one resurrection to prove that death has, indeed, been overcome.
But for most of us it takes more than one Easter sermon to believe something we haven't experienced, or to accept what someone tells us is true even if we can't place our hands on the evidence. It takes faith, which the Bible calls, "being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1). Like flowers, faith takes time to germinate and, like all living things, needs nourishment and continued care to survive.
Churches where Easter has just been celebrated also hold services the other Sundays of the year, and often during the week. Bibles may be read any day of the year, and God may be reached for consultation every moment of the day.
Jesus once described faith as a tiny mustard seed capable of growing into a plant so large birds can nest in its branches. Faith seeds planted now and tended with care could be mammoth by this time next year.
Just think what our Easter celebration would be like then.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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