A reader of this blog has raised the question: “Do independent churches make too little of Easter?” On my way to church last Sunday I passed several children carrying palm branches to church for the Palm Sunday service. The sight of them was the first time I even thought of this special day in the church calendar. That just shows how little I personally consider the “Holy Days” of the liturgical calendar.
The celebration of Easter itself has been much criticised for its connection with the pagan calendar. Even the word “Easter” mimics the name of the pagan fertility goddess “Ishtar”. For years in our church we deliberately called Easter “Resurrection Sunday” just to avoid the association. Whether Good Friday is technically the day of Christ’s crucifixion has also been the topic of much debate. This is one reason why independent churches veer away from Easter as a major event.
The deeper reason though has more to do with a general distrust of all things liturgical. The very word “liturgy” conjures up mental pictures of robed altar boys, candle-lit solemn services and monotone repetition, or even worse, the blasphemous mass. The Eucharist aside, many protestant churches also practice a “set pattern of worship”, the broader meaning of the word “liturgy.” By definition “independents” have made a deliberate move away from the established church and its trappings, including set liturgy. Therefore, independent churches often downplay the special seasons that the church has observed for centuries.
In spite of my own failure to remember Palm Sunday, the Bible does set a precedent for the practice of regular God-centered celebrations. The Jewish year was full of special convocations to remember God’s wonders among his people. “Beware lest you forget the Lord” is Moses’ admonition to Israel before his death. Having himself received the law from God, he must have understood at least some of God’s reasons for all those ceremonies of remembrance. Even the early church regularly met on the first day of the week, a purposeful remembrance of the central truth of Christ’s resurrection.
Liturgy also gives us a structure to remember reverently the unshakable foundation of our faith. Having a set pattern to follow each year assures us that the unchangeable truths have been considered and addressed. Perhaps following a liturgy is a little like memorising a Bible verse. We put the information in, and over time the deeper meaning of what we have learned unfolds to us.
For me, all of this is mere musing. My church still follows a rather casual approach to the holy days. What does your church do? What would you like to see changed? Let’s talk.