In a post-Christian society, common church phrases such as ‘He is risen!’ are unlikely to mean much. Rev Peter Crumpler suggests an alternative way churches can communicate Easter truth this week
‘Christ is risen!’ declares the invitation from a local church that dropped through my letter box.
‘By His Grace,’ ‘Amazing Love’ and ‘Hope is Here’ were among the slogans inside a leaflet offering me ideas for my church’s Easter publicity.
But what do any of these mean to the increasing number of people in our post-Christian society who know very little about the Easter story?
All those phrases – no matter how true, how wonderful for me as a Christian disciple and minister – fall far short of explaining the deep meaning of Easter. Each will need to be supported by so much more information and narrative to make them connect with 21st century Britain.
Easter has lost out massively to Christmas in contemporary society. Christmas contains an easily-understood story. What better than a new baby to make people smile, brighten the mood and make everyone feel more optimistic in the winter months?
Easter can be a whole lot darker. It’s about an innocent man being put on trial, tortured and executed. Jesus dies in excruciating pain, and darkness descends.
This can present real challenges for churches and Christians who want this story to connect with their non-Christian friends.
Don’t rush past Good Friday
The cross on which Jesus died on Good Friday has become the symbol of our faith, and we understand the deep significance of Christ’s death. We know that Jesus had to die, so that he could rise again, victorious over sin and the devil.
But there is another deep meaning that may resonate more with our contemporary world.
Jesus suffered, and that means that God understands suffering. God understands pain. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, God understands it.
That means God understands so much of what we may be going through, because he has been through it too. In my experience, I find that message connects with many people.
It’s tempting for us as Christians to rush past Good Friday. To look past the suffering and death of that dark day, and head towards Easter Day, to find the empty tomb and see Jesus raised from the dead. But it’s better to take each day slowly. To appreciate the pain of Good Friday. To stay with that pain, and to consider the suffering of so many people in today’s world. To understand that God, in Jesus, stands with those people in their anguish.
To stay with Holy Saturday, the day when Jesus’s family and followers mourned their loss, the death of their beloved Jesus. To wait, to inhabit that sadness, to feel their numb suffering. Just as many bereaved families and people are today experiencing loss.
And only then to move to Easter Day, to celebrate on that Sunday, the new life, the new beginning, the new dawn that breaks with Jesus’s resurrection. Coming back from the dead to bring new life to all those who put their faith in him. A new start, free from the past.
Christmas is about new birth. So, in its way, is Easter, with the resurrection offering new hope, new life to everyone who puts their faith in the risen Christ.
That is the deep meaning of Easter, that we are challenged to declare afresh in our generation.