I got bogged down in work stuff and family commitments last week and I’m just now surfacing. I wanted to wish my handful of readers a belated Happy Easter. I spent a chunk of a recent work trip reading a couple of Rob Bell books — the recent Love Wins and part of Velvet Elvis (2005) and will have some reaction for you later, but in the meantime I wanted to mention a couple of things surrounding Easter.
First of all, because I grew up in a somewhat landmarkist fundamentalist subculture I tend to look askance at both liturgy and the liturgical year as being either meaningless repetition or pagan accretion, and I’m always tempted to point out that Christmas isn’t strictly speaking a Christian holiday; unlike communion and baptism there’s no command in the New Testament to observe it, our modern observation is a mix of pagan and Christian elements, etc. Easter is a bit different, but only just: it can be located on the calendar relative to Passover, was celebrated before Nicea, but we observe it with a mix of pagan and Christian elements, etc. As a result the whole cycle of holidays from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday sort of fits me like a borrowed suit: I’d like to think it looks nice, but it’s a bit itchy and uncomfortable.
Still, we managed to fit in both a Good Friday service and an Easter Sunday service this year, despite naps and delayed plane flights.
This particular church is fairly accused of being a rich white church, and runs maybe half full fifty Sundays a year but packed to the gills Christmas and Easter. At a glance it’s hard to tell the twice-a-years from the regular attenders: tall, good-looking, well-dressed, etc., and for the most part traveling in some sort of nuclear family bubble, smiling at but not making eye contact with anyone they don’t already know. We’re mostly refugees and retirees from California and Texas, in but not a part of New Mexico.
I don’t envy Martin Ban the task of preaching to this mixed multitude on a regular basis, and that goes double or more on Easter and Christmas. If he preaches a standard Easter sermon he’s orthodox but runs the risk of comforting the comfortable. If he strays too far afield he runs the risk of not preaching an Easter sermon per se at all. This Easter he took some risks.
The texts are 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 and the first dozen verses of the Revelation. He also makes heavy use of Penn Jillette’s contribution to NPR’s This I Believe series [link] titled “There Is No God.” Here’s the pull quote:
Believing there is no God means the suffering I’ve seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn’t caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn’t bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.
Ban contrasts having faith in God with having faith in our children’s ability to solve technical problems, alleviate suffering, etc. It’s a bit of a stretch for a cultural reference point for an Easter sermon, and I honestly can’t tell you if it works or not. I often get the feeling at Christ Church that I’m not really in the target audience, so I’m overhearing a conversation I’m not really party to, and as a result I don’t really understand what I’m hearing. I don’t know how many PCA Presbyterians are tempted by the arguments of fashionable atheism, especially on Easter Sunday.