After yesterday’s Easter worship service, at least three people said something to me like, “I don’t remember squeezing more people into this church…I have been going to St. James for a long time, and I haven’t seen a crowd like this one before…if there had been any more people at church today, then we would have been in violation of the fire code.”
As a pastor, such statements are music to my ears. Statistics do not tell us everything, but they tell us something about a congregation’s vitality. I do not believe that statistical success is the chief end and aim of the church—glorifying and enjoying God forever is—and yet I am grateful every time that glorifying and enjoying God involves more people than we are accustomed to seeing on any given Sunday.
Any statistical success that we enjoy as a congregation comes not from anything that we do but from God who calls us to worship Sunday after Sunday (not only on Easter). Often, faithfulness looks like stepping up and taking responsibility for that which God calls us to do. Sometimes, faithfulness translates into stepping aside so that the Holy Spirit may lead us in a direction that is completely different from anything that we can ask or imagine.
One of the points that I made in yesterday’s sermon is that when Mary, Simon Peter and the other disciple wake up on the first Easter, they do not believe in resurrection, and yet, by the end of the day, their perspective on this subject changes drastically. Perhaps our commitment to Christ’s body, the church, will, too, as we bask in the glow of Easter’s light this year.
In addition to proclaiming, “Alleluia! Christ is risen,” Easter gives us a sense of how big the church is, both the church universal and the congregation to which we belong. Before, during and after yesterday’s service, I had the sense that St. James in one, big, happy family (with all of the zaniness that entails).
I cherish the comments that members have to made to me on Sundays over the years. These experiences are among the reasons that I make sure that my microphone is off before the service; I never know what members might say. 🙂
St. James adds to the collection of sayings that I will remember every day, and yesterday was no exception. I laughed when it was suggested that I propose an expansion of the building as additional seats were brought into the sanctuary. I laughed again when another member wondered where all of these people were last week, and I asked, hopefully, if they will be back next week.
Chances are, many of them will not worship with us next Sunday, but I prefer to focus on the fact that many of them will. Our job is not to judge our neighbors; it is to love them. God calls us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to be sure that people feel as welcomed at St. James as people did when they encountered the living Christ in the first century.
Within the course of Holy Week, God’s children go from shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Give us Barrabas” to “Alleluia! Christ is risen.” Stepping back from the experience, I am reminded of how fickle we are and of how loving God is to redeem us and the rest of the world. I give thanks that the Lord is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed.