I don't know if you would necessarily call me an "eavesdropper." I don't walk into a place with the intention of overhearing, it just happens. You've heard those people who are sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant and yet they're talking like they own the joint.
Recently, I was sitting in Starbucks listening (inadvertently and yet unavoidably) to two mid 20-somethings talk about Lent.
Lent, in short, is composed of the 40 days leading up to Easter in which a Christian gives themselves to prayer, repentance, sacrificial giving and fasting.
The intention of Lent is to prepare oneself for the coming Holy Week, which climaxes at Easter in the celebration of the resurrection of Christ.
"Did you go to Brittany's party last week, it was crazy?" girl No. 1 said. "No, I couldn't make it because some of my family decided to come in town for the weekend," replied girl No. 2.
"Well, you're in luck because Corey is throwing a party this Saturday night, and it should be amazing. We're going to get hammered."
"Man, you know I would love to but I've given up partying for lent." Then came the phrase that just capped off this entire conversation. "But hit me up after Easter, and we'll make up for lost time," said girl No. 2 between a sip of her soy vanilla latte.
I tried to cover up the short chuckle that came out of my mouth by quickly looking down at my computer screen like I was responding to a funny email or some crazy YouTube video.
As the conversation played through my mind, I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of the conversation and yet show alarm at the flippancy of such a sacred ritual.
To be completely honest, growing up I equated Easter with the one week where I was forced to wear a tie to church and that Mom was going to cook like it was going out of style when we got home.
Now as a pastor of a small contemporary congregation, I associate it with a packed worship area and people I won't see again until Christmas (or possibly Easter of next year). How do you speak to a room of people who hear the same sermon every year?
We have experts in the room on the resurrection story who haven't even heard of the story of Moses (except for that Disney movie, Prince of Egypt, I think).
I find it ironic that Jesus rarely had issues with the prostitutes, the thieves and the tax collectors. In fact, throughout the gospels, we frequently find these people as Jesus' chosen dinner guests. It always seems as though Jesus had a short fuse for the religious people who always seemed to have an agenda and were preoccupied with how to preserve their external image.
In fact, on one occasion Jesus seems to be fed up with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and their life of hypocrisy. Jesus talks about their insistence on focusing on things like tassels on their garments, their seat at the banquet tables and the prestigious titles in which they are greeted (Matthew 23:5-7).
It becomes nothing more than a big campaign to maintain the exterior with little or no regard for the interior. Jesus quickly reconciles the issue by stating how they "clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean" (23:25-26). In other words, the outward accomplishments are absolute rubbish to God if it's not accompanied the heart.
My challenge for you and me this Easter is to enjoy exterior rituals that accompany Easter.
There's nothing wrong with dressing up a little bit extra, hanging out with the family, observing an amazing (and potentially life-changing) ritual such as Lent or throwing a few eggs out in the front yard. Amidst the busyness of the rituals (or exterior) that accompany Easter, my prayer is that I find that time to stop and internally process the amazing events that define our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
God, help me to make sure the inside of the cup is clean before I start rigorously polishing the exterior. Help me not get so overly preoccupied with maintaining the façade that I forget about the point of this whole thing.
Matt Nelson is the lead pastor of City Church Tulsa.
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