What to expect on Easter? For most Christians it is the last Sunday of the year when you would expect the unexpected. That's why so many Christians show up on Easter filling churches that may only be half filled next week. They expect the great Easter hymns like Christ The Lord is Risen Today and a rousing choral anthem faithfully rehearsed for weeks so it is as near perfect as it can be. The sermon should be delivered with care, as well. Faith full, no doubt, extolling the victory of the Resurrection. The service should end on a triumphal note so we feel better about our chances, here and there, no matter what. We should see a few people we know -celebrate the community of the Risen - and then get home to see how the ham is coming along.
A blogger on the Christian Century website got me thinking. Should Easter be surprising? The first Easter was. Look at Matthew 28. There was an earthquake so powerful the great stone in front of the tomb rolled away, and the dazzling presence of angels, and then the completely unexpected appearance of Jesus. Guards quaked until they passed out and the women who came to anoint the dead body of their friend, were scared speechless but joyful, too. They were given a job to do by Jesus to go tell the men, who were home doing who knows what, to get to Galilee to meet up with him. Then, there comes Acts which is as unexpected a story as there could be.
I've had a hand in putting together many Easter services and prepared just as many Easter sermons. It's a challenge. How to say the expected in such a way that the unexpectedness of it all gets through. Nothing I came up seemed to work to my satisfaction. The best thing I found was to gather a few people for an Easter sunrise service and in an unscripted setting, after a chorus to two were sung, invite people to share what the the Risen Christ is doing in their lives. In an atmosphere of unscripted honestly and transparency, Easter comes alive. Then, we go to the kitchen and share a meal together, lingering over coffee, in the hours when nothing has to be done except wait for the main Easter service to begin.
Then, we can adjourn to the sanctuary to sing and preach the great theme of our faith. Which we know was surprising when it happened - and is still - we discover in the sharing of word and meal.