A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
May 18, 2017
Presbyterians have a long tradition of understanding Easter as a particular day, rather than as a season. As we have come in recent decades to follow the church calendar more closely, we have been warming to the idea that Easter lasts from the day of resurrection until Pentecost. Easter is too important to our faith and life to relegate to a single day of the year.
The church in its early generations came to consider each Sunday as a “little Easter.” They called it “the Lord’s Day” because the empty tomb was discovered on a Sunday morning. At first, Christ-followers attended Sabbath activities in community synagogues, then met again in homes on “the Lord’s Day” to share a meal, at which they would discuss the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus around the dinner table. Everyone brought more food and drink than they would consume, so there would be enough to feed the pastor’s family and to share with the needy in the community. The remnants of this tradition are still evident when we include the offering in the service of the Eucharist (per our Book of Common Worship), or when we place the offering plates on the Communion Table.
Eventually the Lord’s Day gathering came to displace the Sabbath synagogue gathering, as Christ-followers were disinvited from their synagogues. So the prayers and instruction that had been part of their synagogue experience were assimilated into their Lord’s Day gatherings at the supper table. The “president” (as the pastor was then called due to the primary role of presiding at the Table blessing) became responsible to lead in prayer and to conduct a robust conversation about the texts of Holy Scripture and the memoirs of the apostles. We now know those two bodies of writing as the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament.”
Lord’s Day practices were the church’s expressions of what we might call “practicing resurrection.” Things associated with Sunday were all tinged with Easter consciousness. Hearing with Gospel ears the testimony of the ancient prophets. Singing and praying the Psalms. Instruction from the apostles. Stories of Jesus. Eating and drinking together at the Lord’s Table. Giving thanks for all that God has given to us through Jesus. Receiving offerings, distributing their bounty to the needy in our community. All of this is Easter stuff.
Easter, then, is more than just a day, and more than just the season from Jesus’ resurrection to the Day of Pentecost. It sets the tone for every Christian gathering and outreach. When we are together on the Lord’s Day, we are practicing resurrection. When we take the bounty that we share on the Lord’s Day to bless the world around us, we are practicing resurrection. When the Hebrew Scriptures and the apostolic writings are read and interpreted together, we are practicing resurrection. When we share a meal that we recognize as the Lord’s Supper, we are practicing resurrection.
Resurrection is not the same thing as resuscitation. It is not merely staving off death by borrowing a few more seasons of breath. Resuscitation of a corpse would be its own kind of miracle; we have several such biblical stories. Resurrection vanquishes death, rather than merely deferring it. The point of resurrection is not merely to live a little longer. It is about a new way and understanding of life in which death has no part.
Sometimes our vision for church vitality is informed more by resuscitation mentality than by practicing resurrection. We tend all too easily to think about church vitality as a return to some former condition. Practicing resurrection is an entirely different enterprise. It is a fresh engagement in ancient practices that bear witness to life eternal, made visible to us in the person of Jesus.
How does your congregation practice resurrection? I’d love to hear your Easter stories, if you’d be willing to share them with me. Email me at email@example.com.
Yours in Easter celebration,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
Click here for the directory of archived letters and sermons.