Today is Easter Sunday. Those who do not regularly attend church services sometimes make an exception at either Christmas or Easter. My recent attendance at church services has been very sporadic. On Good Friday, my duties as a Rotarian meant that I was on traffic control duties while the Christians of the town held a public silent procession (with someone carrying a symbolic wooden cross at the head). As they concluded by singing the hymn, ‘When I survey the Wondrous cross,’ on the Market Place, I was emotionally moved.
I felt the need to attend a church service this morning. I went to a large city church that I have attended intermittently. There was excitement in the auditorium beforehand. This is one occasion when the children (who usually have their own ‘church’ event running concurrently) joined in and the Children’s team led the main all-age family service. The music that accompanies the congregational singing is always of the highest order, again something that can’t always be said of church musical groups. There was encouraged ‘audience participation’ that was celebratory. Worshippers were encouraged to enjoy themselves, the Easter Sunday bible story was told with humourous photographs appearing on big screens portraying members of the Youth Church re-enacting the Easter story. To the worshippers, it would have been a moving experience.
And yet, I couldn’t connect. I was there, but I was an observer. Being a Christian and living such a lifestyle was all I knew for the majority of my life. Every step seems to take me further away from having a faith: academically, emotionally, spiritually as the few prayers I now offer always go unheard and unanswered. Part of me wants to leave the door open, but the Christianity which was my whole life is becoming extremely closed to me.
Today, my thought went back to Easter Sunday 2010. This was the last service I conducted as a minister. I knew it would be my last. I was being placed on an immediate ‘leave of absence,’ only the church authorities had delayed the imminence because they didn’t want to manage the logistics of fulfilling an Easter programme at my church. So, knowing full well that my life’s vocation was ending, I was allowed a stay of execution. At the Maundy Thursday Passover re-enactment meal and the Good Friday service, I was mournful and emotional. I guess people assumed it was because of the occasion, not realising that there were deeper emotions within me. On Sunday, I put on my brave face, and led the church in their joyous Easter celebrations. No-one knew my inner turmoil.
Afterwards, people were kind enough to comment that I’d conducted really meaningful Easter services for them and had no idea how I managed it considering the vast personal pressure I must have been under. Actually, it was probably the long established practise I developed from my marriage of leading a Sunday service and pretending all was well that got me through that last Easter Sunday.
Easter speaks to all because it is a celebration of hope and new life. On Good Friday everything seemed bleak but a few days made all the difference. Maybe this message is why so many victims of abuse are drawn to religion because of the hope they see in what appears to be a darken depression. For the non-religious, Easter is a reminder of the new life and hope of Springtime. In fact, civilisation rejoiced in this cycle of nature before Christians added their slant on the festivities.
My easter festival is about new life and hope breaking through the darkness but not in the conventional understanding of Christianity. Walking away from the church on Easter Sunday 2010, I walked away from the darkness of abuse, I’ve found a new life and by speaking out about the Intimate Partner Violence I suffered from, I’m bringing hope to those who felt trapped in abusive relationships.