This editorial originally appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on Easter morning, Sunday, April 5, 2015.
Two Christian saints died this week, and I can only imagine the Easter they are experiencing this morning in heaven. The first, Dr. Robert Schuller, was the renowned preacher of what critics called a ‘soft Gospel’. He started the megachurch movement showing Protestants how to go big, or go home.
The second saint, Teresa Jefford, quietly slipped away Friday afternoon at the Hospice of the Comforter in Altamonte Springs. Teresa spent her career as a special education teacher in south Alabama. While she may not have a Crystal Cathedral or fifteen book titles to her name, she leaves behind thousands of lives touched by her love and educational investment.
From what I know of each, I am sure neither Dr. Schuller nor Teresa ever in their lives missed an Easter Sunday worshiping with fellow Christ-followers. They were joined on Easter Sundays past by huge crowds like those that are seen during the Christmas season at churches across Central Florida, and our nation.
As a pastor, I wonder, “Why the crowds on Easter Sunday like we see at Christmas?” The marketplace has culturally captivated Christmas. Themes of love, family, and generosity are promoted to keep the economic engines humming and the stripped-down holiday very much alive. But, Easter, why has Easter remained culturally relevant such that people, unlike the other fifty Sundays, will show up in droves? Is it because Easter occurs in springtime, a season of springing flora and fauna, it feels like the right time to celebrate and be together as a society?
The message of hope, exemplified in Jesus’ empty tomb, is what drives people to show up at churches on Easter morning. Easter worship reminds us of the hope for our eternal destiny, along with the daily hope we need to survive the struggles of building relationships, raising children, fulfilling dreams, and making ends meet. We are reminded on Easter forgiveness is possible, things can improve, regeneration is real, and the ugly can become beautiful once again.
This morning the hope of Easter brings our church to host Easter services for the city at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Expanded capacity and the opportunity to engage with our city center neighbors will make for a memorable Easter morning. Whereas, Easter hope brings Dr. Schuller and Teresa to worship face to face with God this morning in heaven. Wow, am I jealous.
Dr. Case Thorp is the senior associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.