Prepare for an outward looking Easter
As the new year begins, our minds may be more focused on our resolutions than the next chocolate feast in the calendar. After celebrating the birth of Christ in December, Lucy Cooper explores why it is helpful to start preparing now to celebrate His death and resurrection in April...
We may have only just finished the Advent calendar, but chocolate eggs and bunnies will lace the supermarket aisles before too long. And these festive distractions obscure the true meaning of Easter, which still seems a bit lost on much of the British public. A well-known supermarket chain had to correct themselves twice when it reported that few young people realised that Easter was to celebrate the birth of Christ. The second comment corrected this to rebirth, only to finally concede that Easter is actually about the resurrection.
This kind of misunderstanding presents a challenge to us to rediscover the life-changing impact of the Gospel message and share it. Andy Hawthorne, director of Message Trust, says, "Easter should knock us sideways. The first person in heaven after Jesus died was a common thief who had done absolutely nothing to deserve salvation."
Bishop Wayne Malcolm describes Easter as a moment for "ultimate triumph of good over evil, a barbaric moment that was also a triumph of love over hate".
This year there is a fresh and wider recognition of the mission opportunities that Easter presents. There are so many ways that we can share the Good News of Jesus with the people around us. Hope Together, which launched last summer as a continuation of Hope 08, is highlighting Easter this year as a golden opportunity to be outward looking and share the Gospel through words and action.
Hope is providing resources and support to churches over the next four years with an aim to see churches become more mission-focused Roy Crowne, executive director of Hope Together, says, "Christmas is a wonderful celebration, but the Easter message demands an even greater response. It's a vital opportunity for local churches to connect with the non-churchgoer in a real way. This is our festival and a great moment to present our faith to our communities."
A new Hope for Easter resource shares an array of exciting and creative mission ideas to make an impact in local communities at Easter. It profiles new ideas alongside ones that have been tried and tested. It also includes advice on how to go about doing similar things locally. Here are a few ideas:
THROW A PARTY.
Since Hope 2008, Churches Together in Leamington Spa have held The Easter Wave celebrating the Good News of the season and making it a joyful and colourful occasion. Jonathan Lee, Chair of Churches Together in Leamington Spa, said: "For the last three years, hundreds of Christians from several churches in Leamington have joined together for the Easter Wave - a march of witness through the town led by the Salvation Army's Brass Band. Along the way we have given out chocolates, brightly-coloured helium balloons, and cards from the churches. The wave has had a positive effect, and people in the town have been intrigued."
Easter is a great time to stage a celebratory event, and some churches have found that neighbours warm to them when they hold an all-age street festival. This would be similar to a traditional fun day, although it doesn't need to be as elaborate. Face-painting, balloons and little acts of kindness such as shoe-shining or manicures would go down well.
HOLD A SPECIAL COURSE.
Small-group studies and courses have always been a popular way to reflect together on the period of Lent and the meaning of the events of Easter Week.
Hope for Easter contains two group studies, one for adults and one for youth, which use pivotal moments in Jesus' story to spark a response of social action and evangelism. Well-known denominational leaders and members of the Hope leadership team share a bit about what Easter means to them personally, which can provoke deeper thought about what it means to us and how we would communicate this to another in a one-to-one conversation.
In addition, York Courses have produced a five-session ecumenical discussion course with contributions on CD from key Christian thinkers, looking at the legacy of love from Jesus.
SHARE A STORY.
Living Hope Church in Dudley has filmed many members telling their two-minute testimony. While this is designed for year-round evangelism, opportunities are especially ripe at Easter. Rev Jeremy Parkes says, "Often there is only a small two-minute window of opportunity to share in a conversation, so we wanted to prepare people to be able to tell their story concisely and effectively within that time frame. It is about connecting our personal story with Jesus. His death and resurrection has turned our lives into new ones." Taking the time to remind yourself what Easter means to you and practicing telling the story can be a powerful means of outreach.
BUY REAL EASTER EGGS.
We can also share the Good News - and a little love - with our family and friends by giving away the Real Easter Egg, a Fair Trade chocolate egg produced by the Meaningful Chocolate Company. This is the first egg to directly reference the Christian background to the holiday, with a panel explaining "the real meaning of Easter" and giving a portion of profits to charity.
Easter activities could include a new twist on a traditional event, getting churches to work together to have a deeper, wider reach in the community. Steve Clifford, the Alliance's general director and Hope's chairman, asks us to "imagine all over the country, in communities large and small, churches working together bringing Jesus' story alive through word and action". Easter may be a few months away, but the ideas, collaboration and preparations will need to start now.
Roy Crowne adds, "Jesus was put on the cross for His revolutionary message of love and rose again for us. So let's not just celebrate the joy of Easter inside our churches - let's spread the Good News, and together we could see our communities transformed."
Whether it's through sending cards, egg hunts, art displays, concerts, creative prayer, staging a play or giving gifts, engaging with our communities could see people responding to Jesus for the first time. Because that, after all, is what Easter is all about.