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We’re not quite Easter people . . .


. . . but we’re getting there!

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Presbyterians Today

I once considered becoming an Episcopal priest. I would sometimes attend an Episcopal church with a friend, and I guess I was enchanted by the billowing clouds of incense coming from a metal ball the priest swung from a chain.

I was in seminary and, if I wanted to be ordained, I needed a denomination to call home. So I left my part-time job at an American Baptist church to serve with the Episcopalians down the road.

As an Anglican-in-training I would fumble every Sunday, juggling the hymnal with the prayer book and doing my best to stand, sit and kneel on cue. And I fidgeted. A lot. I was never comfortable in the white alb the priest gave me to wear. It made my waist look thick. I know. Vanity is a sin. I’ve made my fashion confessions to God many times.

I didn’t last long as an Episcopalian — I still blame the alb — but I did learn something from my Anglican friends. I learned the paschal greeting where one person says, “Christ is risen!” and the other replies, “He is risen indeed!”

I had never heard this in the Congregational church of my childhood, nor did I hear it in the Reformed Church in America that I attended while living in Manhattan. (How in heaven’s name did I become a Presbyterian? Another story for another time.)

It was a powerful experience to hear the priest say, “Christ is risen!” and then hear the congregation reply, “He is risen indeed!” It brought tears to my eyes. I needed that affirmation that all was not lost. I still need that affirmation, as do our congregations. We need to hear it, voice it and share it. Christ is risen. There’s always hope.

And so, on my first Easter as an ordained Presbyterian (yeah!), I couldn’t wait to share this greeting. Donning my fashionable black clergy robe, I stood after the prelude and said, “Christ is risen!”

Crickets chirped. I said it again. This time I did a little coaxing with my hands, indicating to the congregation it was their turn to speak. I finally had to explain what I was waiting to hear from them. After some laughter and few trial runs, we tried it again.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

The following Easter I made sure to print the words in the bulletin.

I love this time of year. Not just Easter, but what follows. There’s Ascension, when we’re reminded that the work of Christ is now in our hands. Then, on the heels of Ascension, is Pentecost. A reminder that we can do this work, for the Holy Spirit is empowering us.

As much as I find myself renewed this time of year, I can’t help but to notice how we still struggle to be Easter people. We have moved a bit beyond grieving what is lost in our churches, or at least we are admitting we can’t go back to what was. But we haven’t stepped away from the empty tomb and onto the path where our ministries are waiting to experience resurrection. We are not quite Easter people — at least not yet. We are cemetery loiterers.

At a church I served in Maryland, I would often walk in the cemetery and was perplexed by all the stuff left on headstones. Balloons, solar-powered lights — there were even huge stuffed animals sitting at a child’s grave.

One day I noticed a church-going family having a picnic at the grave of their loved one who had been long gone. My heart broke for the grief that kept them bound to the grave. I wondered, too, what was it they heard when they heard the Easter message? What were they holding onto? Grief does have a strong grip on our hearts. I know it is hard to say goodbye.

But, if we are supposed to be Easter people, why are we still loitering in cemeteries? Why do churches still hold onto ministries that have been long gone? Why are sessions afraid of stepping beyond the empty tomb to the new thing God is inviting them to? What are we looking for? What do we fear?
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Now go and live out that belief.

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is interim editor of Presbyterians Today and pastor of First United Presbyterian in Salem, New York.

Call to action

Use the paschal greeting every day as an affirmation of faith. Say it to yourself or with a friend, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Then name the moments of resurrection hope you see throughout your day.

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