(Every six weeks or so I write a column for the local paper, The Concord Journal, in rotation with leaders of other faith communities in town. My assignment this time 'round fell on the Thursday after Easter.)
Did you hear the one about the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter morning? There were three of them: Mary, another Mary and Salome. On their way they hardly spoke a word to each other as they tried to muffle their sobbing.
They were disappointed and dispirited. They were grieving and felt let down. Their hopes and dreams had crashed the day before as they lost their friend die a painful death. They felt like they’d lost everything. The confusion was unimaginable. They didn’t know what to make of all that had happened or where to turn in the face of tomorrow. Life’s circumstances and troubles had disoriented them. The heaviness weighing on their hearts slowed their every step along the way.
And do you know… some 2,000 years later hundreds of thousands of women and men made their way to church on Easter morning with the same feelings and burdens troubling the depths of their souls. Mary and Mary and Salome were the first but far from the last to come to Easter wondering what life was all about.
Of course these first three were startled, surprised and shaken by what they found and they were very much afraid. The empty tomb was as much a mystery as a message, even if the message was good news. It took some time for them to truly hear, to comprehend, to let the good news seep into their grief-bound hearts. But then it did and they went to tell others that Jesus had risen.
Many may have stayed at home this Easter morning precisely because they hadn’t the strength to carry their burdens to a place where a joy they’ve lost and a peace they’ve yet to find would be lifted up in song and prayer.
And that’s just the point at which we need to turn to Salome and the two Mary’s. They came to the tomb just as they were. The very emptiness they carried within them provided a place to be filled with good news, with peace and with joy.
Though the pews in most churches are more filled on Easter than any other Sunday, there are still throngs of Christians who stay home on this holy day and for a variety of reasons. It may be a heavy heart. It may be unsettled problems with church teaching. It may be a bad experience in church decades ago. It might be an estrangement from God, or from another person – or from one’s self.
As a pastor, I can assure you that the very reasons that keep many away from worship are also the very reasons that many come to worship. Church is not for those who have it all figured out – no one does. Church is not for the perfect – no one is. Church is not just for saints – few of us are. Church is not for those with no doubts – I doubt that any are so free!
Church is for those whose faith has found peace and strength but church is also very much for the disappointed and dispirited; for the grieving and let down; for those whose hopes and dreams have crashed; for those who are confused; for those who don’t know where to turn and for those with heavy hearts.
If you fit this description, please come home to church: we miss you! If you see yourself in this article, please come home to church: you’ll find yourself in good company! If your steps are slowed by life’s burdens and troubles, please come home to church: we have a place for you to rest, to heal and to find a share in the joy and peace God offers us all. Come home – we’re looking forward to seeing you!
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