Yes He is Risen but…

Adventists and Easter

Strangely silent

If you go into an Adventist church on Easter Saturday it is by no means guaranteed that the worship service will focus on an Easter theme. It may be totally unrelated to the closing scenes of Jesus’ life. If you visit the church on Easter Sunday morning the doors will probably be as closed as the sealed tomb. Very strange! Adventists have a rather ambiguous relationship with Easter, a festival which you might expect us to celebrate with a whole heart.

We gladly affirm the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NRSV): “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” The events commemorated by Easter are foundational to the whole Adventist Christian view of the world. The story of Jesus’ gruesome death on Calvary, the wonderfully baffling events of Sunday morning, and the salvation mysteriously effected by that judicial killing, are core matters which Adventists will preach, sing, write, theologize, and talk about for the rest of the year — but not somehow with the rest of Christendom.

So why this silence which, to some observers, may seem close to denial? Why do we fast-forward from the crucifixion to the Second Advent? Why treat the resurrection principally as a pre-condition of the Second Advent?

Easter baggage

Adventists have often had a problem with the celebration of Easter when they come from cultural backgrounds deeply influenced by religious traditions with a strong emphasis on the liturgical calendar — Catholics and Orthodox. For these Adventists, Easter somehow belongs to the ‘others.’ For them, it has seemed important to remain distinct from the prevailing religious traditions which may have been less than welcoming towards them. Further, Adventism has a concern for its identity as a Christian group which has separated from the ancient traditions. According to Adventist teaching, those traditions have compromised the faith in various ways — theological, ecclesiological, and ethical. It is important to set up boundary markers, so the argument goes. Adventism is a reform movement, after all.

Some of these Adventists have undoubtedly been treated badly by those in authority. Some stories of hostility may be imagined but I have heard reliable stories of Adventists being denied jobs, promotions, and the opportunity for academic progress, and worse, because of their Sabbath observance.

Then, by contrast, there are those Adventists who ignore Easter for other reasons. They may feel that the pagan roots of the Easter festival should warn us off. Crosses and palm fronds get too easily confused with cuddly bunnies and chocolate eggs. Where I live, the meaning of Easter is lost not so much in a pagan festival but in a commercialized binge — it’s just another retail opportunity.

Baby and bathwater

I wish to treat with respect those who have suffered for their faith in a way which I, as a UK citizen, have never been required to do. I also wish to acknowledge the importance of maintaining a distinct Adventist identity. But I cannot help thinking that we may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Another surprise

If you do worship with an Adventist congregation on Easter Saturday and there is an acknowledgement of Easter, you may encounter another surprise. There may be a premature rush to resurrection and you may find yourself singing “Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!” By the end of worship on Sabbath morning, Christ is, to all intents and purposes, already risen! We feel compelled to do this because we do not normally meet again on Easter Sunday to proclaim that “He is risen.” We have either to pre-empt the resurrection or not celebrate it at all. Not a good choice! It all rather misses the point. I have been fortunate to be a part of an Adventist congregation which meets early on Easter Sunday in a garden to proclaim the risen Lord. And so I have been able to experience the tension of Easter Sabbath. It is rather rare.

Easter Sabbath

We Adventists have a unique gift to offer. We come together regularly on Saturdays to worship, including Easter Sabbath. For the first disciples, that devastating Passover Sabbath was a time of waiting, waiting behind closed doors too scared to venture out. It was a time of anxiety, of keen disappointment of hopes, of not knowing the outcome, of feeling like giving up, of darkness.

All of this has great significance for Christians — actually, for most people. We all experience our share of pain and loss, despair and disappointment. Adventists can offer to others a time and place in which to wrestle with the tensions of waiting. Easter Sabbath is the perfect moment. So often the meaning is in the waiting.

Easter Saturday is a time when we can share with others the difficulties of waiting in hope or in despair in everyday life — waiting for some important news of medical tests, examination results, waiting to see a loved one after a long absence, waiting without a loved one by your side, waiting for words which never come…waiting, waiting.

It is strange, in my opinion, that a group which is so disciplined in the business of waiting — waiting expectantly for the coming of Christ — should not seize this moment to acknowledge the role of waiting in the lives of all people. According to 1 Corinthians 15:17,19 (NRSV), “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…we are of all people most to be pitied.” If Christ is risen, then we should surely celebrate it. If we celebrate it, why not celebrate with others and so fulfil our Lord’s wish that His followers be one?

Easter Sabbath is a treasure not to be treated lightly. It teaches us to wait…and wonder. It teaches us that, in the spiritual life, things often move more slowly than we would like. It teaches us above all to hope.

With all Christians, Adventists can confidently proclaim the great truth of Easter:

“He is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Michael Pearson is a retired ethicist living in the UK. He and his wife, Helen, run a website, Pearsons’ Perspectives, where this and similar articles can be found. It is reprinted here with permission.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8664
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For the Episcopalians where I sing in their choir, Holy Sabbath is a wonderful
experience.
It is called – The Great Easter Vigil. Here it begins at 8:30 pm. It climaxes
around 10:30 PM with the Shout! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!! Alleluia! Alleluia!
This with EVERYONE ringing their bells. Tiny bells, Medium bells. Clanging Cow Bells.
Yes! Christ at that moment IS Risen Indeed!!

Actually the Easter service BEGAN on Thursday night – Maundy Thursday with a meal
in quiet. Scripture verses. Foot washing. Then to the worship space for the Eucharist
service, and the stripping of the altar.
Then there is the being with Jesus in The Garden with an all night Vigil. Some staying all
night, others coming and going on 2 hour intervals through the night till 7AM.
Good Friday service at 6:30 PM. the Stations of the Cross available all day out side.
The Easter service continues Saturday night with the Great Easter Vigil at 8:30 PM.
The Easter service CONCLUDES on Sunday morning. One of the songs will be Christ
the Lord is Risen Today. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Actually – Easter began on Palm Sunday. Wednesday in Tenebrae with community reading
many Psalms together in semi-darkness and flash lights. 8 candles. One extinguished at the
conclusion of each Psalm. Leaving the middle one burning as filing out in silence.

After Celebrating what Christ did for me ALL WEEK – 8 days. The SDA service on Sabbath
is actually a Great Big Huge DUD. It is like all the other 51. Not a High Sabbath.

50 days later is Pentecost – The Birthday of The Church. Red streamers hanging from the
ceiling fan blades slowly swirling around. Red helium filled balloons floating on string in the altar
area. Everyone wearing something with Red, Yellow, or Orange. YES! We celebrate the Holy
Spirit!
For Adventists Pentecost comes and goes without a whimper.

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*Today, in my local Lutheran Church at Hvaler, Norway, I was one of the readers of the story of Jesus’ sufferings, on what is named the ‘Longfriday’ in Norway.

This year we read the story according to John. And, my voice was the voice of Pilate. And, this we do every year, alternating, each year, between the different voices of the four authors of th NT gospels.

We read the story together, yet we left the interpretation to each and everyone. There was no sermon. The question of how it relates to being a particular, existing individual in our common world, with others, was not given a universal answer. Not even the question of hope.

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The Glory of the empty tomb is a cause for Christain celebration. Pagan distortion is no excuse to avoid proper recognition and celebration. What greater assurance can God offer than the Manger, The Cross, The Empty Tomb, And Christ entry into the most Holy Place upon His ascension.Read Ps 22, 23, and 24 and rejoice.

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Ole –
This year we are on the Mark cycle. We did that on Palm Sunday, but reading from Mark.
It is a wonderful experience. As all the readers sat in their usual spots in the pews.

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Michael,
You essentially mentioned all the major common reasons why the Protestant movement at large, not just SDAs, did not make it a formal tradition to parade with bunnies on Fifth Av. or crosses at the Vatican’s St Peter’s Square, and it gets much, much worse and embarrassing than that to anyone that is a true Christian, regardless of denomination, as I am sure you know or have seen on TV.
As a son of an SDA pastor growing up in South America I remember observing the entire week (Semana Santa) holding evening worship and prayer sessions at our local churches.
As an adult living in the US, I am sure I am not alone in saying that the SDA community remembers with contrition of heart the infinite sacrifice that Jesus,the Father, and the Holy Spirit paid for us, and fully rejoices in the event of the Resurrection, not just one day a year, but in daily hope of the Second Advent. We don’t only have the sorrowful experience of Jesus’s disciples during Easter Sabbath to consider, but a much more recent experience with the Great Disappointment of 1844, and so I agree and believe that we do treat all Easter events as the greatest treasures of our faith, and hold them as the central reason of our hope.

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What an inspiring article! I grew up with my Adventist church ignoring Easter, and wondered why. The best explanation given was that it was “Catholic”.

As an young adult I began a long career as organist/choirmaster in several Episcopal churches. So, again, this week I planned the music for, accompanied, and conducted the music at my local Episcopal Church.

We began with Lent back in February. Say what you want - but I see little difference between that and a week of prayer (and fasting). It is a time of special focus on our spiritual lives - renewing and strengthening them. Many Episcopal (Lutheran, etc.) churches have mid-week meetings during Lent very similar to the old traditional Adventist week of prayer meetings.

Palm Sunday - last week - we remembered not only Jesus’ triumphal entry, but the fact that he did not make himself a king and was quickly rejected. Even some of his disciples denied him.

“Maundy Thursday” - we gathered around a large table in the fellowship hall for a simple supper of lentil soup, pita bread, and cheese. Nothing else. No dessert. This was followed by the service of foot washing during which almost everyone participated. (It was not segregated by gender.) Then we silently walked into the sanctuary and the communion service followed - remembering the night of the “last supper”.

Today, Good Friday, we gathered again at noon - entering the sanctuary in silence. No prelude music. No talking/greeting. Many knelt in prayer. Then we read from the scriptures again about Christ’s sacrifice. Interspersed were 6 congregational hymns. After the last hymn we left in total silence, and some people remained to pray. I was so moved that I was too chocked up to sing along on the hymns.

Saturday evening the church will gather again to remember how Jesus rested in the tomb over the Sabbath day!

I, too, fail to understand why Adventists have largely ignored this as it is centered on Scripture.

Tomorrow morning (Sabbath) the Adventist church where I am the organist will have a large Easter pageant. It will have spent no time remembering why we have Easter. Nothing will happen there on Sunday morning to celebrate the day Christ rose from the dead. There will be no opportunity for reflection, to consider the solemn events that led up to the resurrection day.

Adventists miss so much because the church usually seems to throw out all the good of Lent and “Holy Week”, labeling it Roman Catholic.

That you, Dr. Pearson, for so beautifully reminding us the beautiful observances we too often miss.

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George, thank you for the beautiful explanation. I’m sad to say that I personally doubt that Adventists, at least in North America, think much about the true meaning of Easter during “Holy Week”. And I’ve seen little evidence that we remember the Great Disappointment, generally. Nor do I see it as any substitute for remembering Christ’s death and resurrection. In the 21st century, many middle aged and young adult Adventists cannot even explain to you exactly what the Great Disappointment was. There is no substitute for remembering the essential elements of our faith - Christ Has Died, Christ Has Risen, Christ Will Come Again.

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Of course the whole exercise of Easter is simply symbolic, instituted by - yes - Constantine, which sends up red flags for SDA’s.

As we know, ,Passover and Easter were originally at the same time, but Constantine decided that was too “Jewish” and designated a separation of the two, Easter became the ultimate Sunday. Passover is calculated by the Jewish calendar and Easter is not. The purist among us, can’t bring themselves to go all out about Easter because is seems to validate the Sabbath/Sunday issue. Of course, today the Sabbath is also calculated by the Roman calendar so it’s much ado about nothing. Either we calculate Sabbath by the original Hebrew calendar and disregard the Roman Easter; or we mix it all up, as we do, and keep the Sabbath based on the Roman calendar and try to give a nod to Easter; or none of it matters.

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While living in South Korea, I visited an English-speaking church at the Serviceman’s center in Seoul. The South African pastor didn’t have an Easter message at all during Easter weekend. I was very disappointed. I was hoping for a nice Easter service and I didn’t get it. I had hoped for that while I was living in a primarily Buddhist country. The center has since moved to a different location and the pastor has moved to another country.

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Just curious, where in South America?

Most sermons presented do not inspire or promote hope. The theme of most sermons are that people are not ready for translation or resurrection.

How can one have hope?

Hope is the result of…
"and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Rom 5:1234:

And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men. ACTS 24:16

How can one have hope in being resurrected, based on Jesus’ resurrection, without having a personal experience of “walking in newness of life”? Rom 6:4
Salvation=mind makeover, decriminalization, sin eradication, character transformation, trust healing. Rom 12:2

Peter
I completely agree, I was just adding (not very well) to the author’s comments on the second from last paragraph.

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Hello George T:
Our family is from Buenos Aires but my dad, after his first years pastoring local churches started with Arturo Utz (President) the Missión Patagónica where he served building parochial schools. He did the same thing later for five years in the Chilean Patagonia, before going to Perú to work with what was then called OFASA (now ADRA). I also studied in CAP, closed to where you studied in Brazil.

Hi George D:
Hmmm, CAP? I wonder where that was. I studied at the CAB in São Paulo, later on named IAE, and now UNASP.
I remember GAP (Paraná), GAC (Campinas), IPE (Petrópolis), but can recall CAP. Help me out please.

Colegio Adventista del Plata, later renamed UAP in Entre Rios, Argentina

OK, I was confused with the word, “close”… LOL

It’s also important to note that Easter as a celebration for the early Christians was established fairly early on. Our first evidence is a sermon by Melito of Sardis in the mid 2nd century, where he mentions it as a well established tradition.

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Makes sense. The belief in the death and resurrection quickly became a primary focus of Christianity and historically is likely the key to its success, as it was a familiar theme in the ancient Roman culture.

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Roman society was typically pretty depressing when it came to death, and Greek society really demeaned the idea of a bodily resurrection. Interestingly enough, one of the reasons why it succeeded, according to experts such as Rodney Stark and David Bentley Hart, was that it simply worked better at caring for others. The Romans had no organization to care for the poor or sick and typically didn’t honor them. The church on the other hand, was known for its care for the poor, its healthcare for the sick and their general overall longevity(when not under threat of martrydom)

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