Friday, April 14, 2006

Empty Tomb, Empty Pew

I was sad to see the posting on UU Easter at Ethan's blog, "Jehovah's Fitness:"

I'm afraid many people think the way he does, and as a minister who pours heart and soul into composing a relevant resurrection-themed Easter message every year, I'm sorry that it may irritate anyone.

I don't think that the problem is that Ethan's not listening carefully enough, nor is it that he's an occasional drop-in to his UU congregation and couldn't possibly be expected to engage deeply in an Easter observance. Both of those things may be factors in why the people I call "God's All-Stars" only appear at Christmas and Easter and then go away making snarky remarks about the cliched nature of the service (I don't know if they do: I assume that some of them do. My family and I were occasional drop-ins to UU services for years, and that's what we did). It obviously isn't the case for Ethan.

I think it may be that Ethan is hearing sermons by ministers who are afraid to bring the fire of personal conviction into their Easter sermons because of potential criticism by disaffected Christians who have yet to gain a mature, affirmative faith of their own and so sneer at anything that smacks of their past experience. The flip side of that coin, of course, is that there are plenty of ministers who find no thrilling spiritual meaning at ALL in Easter and nevertheless feel compelled to mount a big production on that day. Neither reality makes for a great experience for either clergy or laity.

I agree with Ethan that to render Easter just Wow, Stuff is Growing Again Day is lame. To celebrate it as such year after year is inexcusably lame. There's a reason that every mystery religion in the Western world had a dead and resurrected god or goddess at its center, and that those mystery religions had so many devotees for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. And it ain't just because the daffodils pushed back up through the soil again. And it ain't just 'cause people are credulous simpletons. I love how UU ministers will discount Christians as superstitious ninnies and then speak of Plato and Sophocles in hushed, reverent tones, conveniently ignoring the fact that both those great geniuses of western civilization believed in, and worshiped, gods and supernatural beings.

It may be that Ethan is hearing messages watered down by worship committees who think Easter should be one thing and a minister who wishes it could be something else. It may be that Ethan is feeling the tensions of a congregation gathered on the holiest day of the Christian calendar, who have a wide variety of expectations, wounds and anxieties about what Easter is or should be. Perhaps that tension is negatively affecting the energy of the worshiping community.

I don't know. Perhaps Ethan will tell us more.

And meanwhile, plenty of UUs fly the coop for Holy Week observances elsewhere:

May Easter fill your heart with resurrection faith wherever you are.


Blogger Adam Tierney-Eliot said...

Thanks, PB. I appreciate the post.

I approach Easter Sunday with a great deal of fear and trembling every year. Here (at Eliot) the resurrection is important and I want to do a good job. I know that you do, too.

The problem is that even when we are declaring our faith loudly and boldly, there are some who will not like it. Even when we are relevant there are folks who aren't listening. Sometimes I suspect that there are people who attend just so they can be affirmed in not attending the rest of the year! Good luck tomorrow, and congrats on your new blog...

PS, I don't know if I will be mentioning spring or not. I am fortunate in that around here Easter is about something else...

Blogger SC Universalist said...

I dont know what Im doing for Easter yet (yes, its tomorrow, so i need to plan now). the nearest UU fellowhip meets monthly - and was last week (hey im one of the layleaders- i know the topic in advance).
the next closeby is 76 miles away and besides the service (which doesnt look that interesting) is doing a social justice easter egg hunt...
on the other hand, two of my favorite UU Churches in NC are doing what look like good services: one on
the Resurrection and Universalists, and one on Jesus' welcoming table -along with communion (apparently neither flower or water communion).
if the price of gas wasnt so high, I would be going to one of those....(we're talking 100 miles one way)...
last year, i went to the site where Elehanan Winchester begain to convert himself to universalism, and had a two person Easter service, I may do that again.
Is Easter - resurrection - spring service trite? Maybe for some, blessing for others....

Blogger Fr. Damocles said...

Part of it may be that I've never actually attended an authentic Christian Easter service. I don't really have a point of reference in this sense. I think I wouldn't mind a Christian UU minister giving the Easter narrative a passionate, personal spin, despite not having the same affinity for the Christian myth myself. I have been to a few Christian services where the pastors spoke so eloquently and passionately that, even though I didn't feel drawn to the content of their sermons, I was still moved.

It's interesting that you mention mystery religions, because there is something in the Adonis/Tammuz myth that resonates in me, although the resurrection of Jesus does not. Perhaps some vesitages of my childhood ambivalence to Christianity are coloring my perception in this respect. Food for thought.

I realize, though, that my experience with UU Easter services is limited to a few UU congregations and ministers, so hopefully my observations are of the exception and not the rule.

As for the reasons the services often end up taking the form they do... I don't know. I'd say that all of your conjectures sound likely.

Blogger CK said...

UUA GA Guide is here.

And my recommendation for tapas include:
Mirasol (Latin American)
Modesto's (Spanish)

Blogger fausto said...

Ethan, if you've never attended an authentic Easter service, you owe it to yourself to skip the lame local UU one and go sit with the local Episcopalians or Presbyterians or Methodists or Lutherans or Congregationalists tomorrow. Preferably in a church that has a great choir and a generous flower budget. You don't really know whether it resonates or not if you've never really heard it.


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