Why is there so little passion/enthusiasm in the church today? This was a question asked on FB today. I responded, “Our God is too distant, our Christ is too small, and the Holy Spirit is elsewhere. Our churches do not know who or what they are or what they are to do in the world. Otherwise everything is just peachy.” I was not being flip. That is what I really believe.
Shortly after another post came up on my feed from Mike Frost about the greatest Easter painting ever. He proposes Its artist is little known Swiss, Eugѐne Burnand and the painting is hung in an old railway station in Paris on the left bank of the Seine.
John and Peter are rushing to the tomb having just heard Mary Magdalene’s incredible testimony. The white-robed John has his hands clasped in front of him in an almost prayerlike grip. He is full of the energy of anticipation: “Could Jesus really be alive?”
Peter, more wide-eyed than John, has, if possible, even more at stake. John at least was with Jesus at the cross, bearing with him in his dying. Peter, though, had betrayed Jesus, quailing away from him with a coward’s fear. His hand over his heart is suggestive. Is he looking for the courage to believe the Magdalene’s testimony? Does he think his shame will be too much for him to face Jesus if he is indeed alive? Or will his heart be broken if he is not? Burnand has finely captured all this emotional energy on canvas.
It strikes me that Burnand’s painting is certainly not of a church (in the persons of John and Peter) slouching toward Easter! Every bit as frail and fallible as the church today, with regrets and guilt that may well dwarf ours, full of doubt and despair as are we, yet they are leaning into Easter with a passion/enthusiasm we do not have. Tensed, expectant, perplexed, even hopeful that their relationship with Jesus will be somehow renewed beyond death.
As I said above, we are slouching toward Easter. Trying to gin up enough energy to convince ourselves and others that it is really worthwhile to go to all the trouble to make Easter the “do” we’ve come to expect. We gather along with the twice-a-year attenders, praise each other’s new Easter garb, and greet them with “Christ is risen!” But we are not expectant, torn, grieved, or hopeful about renewing our relationship with the risen Christ. We could not easily be painted as the disciples in Burnand’s work on Easter morn.
Why? As many reasons as there are people, I imagine. But I don’t think we expect to or do meet him. If we did, I suspect our lives would look more like Peter’s and John’s than they do. We even have the advantage of knowing what they did not know that first Easter morning – Christ is alive! That should quicken our step a bit to get to worship on Easter.
Part of the reason is my comment to the post I cited above. Our God is too distant, our Christ is too small, the Holy Spirit is elsewhere. And the church has no deep sense of its identity and vocation in the world. Not much reason to hurry in excitement to church on Easter morning in that, is there? So we’re left slouching to Easter for yet another year.