I didn’t do it for Lent or anything, but I am on a very strict diet and doing my level best to stay away from the dessert table. Honestly, I have felt for a long time that I could live on ice cream and cookies. But more recently I have been experiencing the good feeling of doing the harder work, avoiding the quick sugar high—and waking up each day feeling lighter, fresher. Seems obvious, I guess, but bad patterns persist for more reasons than ignorance… like ease and familiarity.
Feast deeply upon the message of the cross as preparation for authentic empty-tomb rejoicing.
Paul Baloche, a worship leader loved around the world, has given more than three decades to training other worship leaders and writing songs that help us express our love for Christ. Paul joined our team this past year, and last Saturday night after service he stayed at our home. We were talking about ‘Holy Week’ at Harvest, and I was surprised to see the surprise in his eyes. He was clearly blessed and reflective about our website The Day Jesus Died, and the decade of dedication we have put into Good Friday as preparation for our Easter celebration. He encouraged me to write about it and let others know of the culture we have developed around Good Friday, where our attendance is more than 4/5 of our Easter crowd.
I have long thought that the way evangelical churches often run to Easter without stopping at the place of suffering—without seeing Christ crucified for my own sin—seems so 21st-century ‘western world’. Even good, gospel-saturated, Bible-preaching churches seem to give more time to the empty tomb than to the reason it is cause for celebration. In an overdue way physically, but for a long time spiritually, I don’t want the dessert without the main course…
Here are 5 things we do to lead our people to feast deeply upon the message of the cross as preparation for authentic Easter/empty tomb rejoicing.
1: Passion Week is a week, not a day or a weekend.
We give our people special materials to work through personally—a devotional and music to listen to on their way to church, and this year a 24/7 vigil of remembrance at the cross. I had been thinking about how our culture shows grief differently than in New Testament times. How we don’t beat upon our breast, or wear sackcloth and ashes, or wail aloud for the most part. We come as individuals and pour our cup of grief into the ocean of community anguish. The first time I saw this was after the death of John Lennon in 1980, then Princess Diana, now 20 years ago. This week we are doing the same as a church community.
2: The primary goal of Good Friday remains the exaltation of Jesus Christ, not the winning of lost people.
Too, too often (in some churches every single week), we subordinate the needs of Christ’s body to what a lowest common denominator lost person would understand. This is so backward and unbiblical. Worse, it brings less glory to Jesus by trapping His children in business-as-usual “let’s revisit the plan of salvation” services. Start dreaming about a service designed solely for the purpose of stirring fresh heart passion for the cross in the soul of a sixty-years saved person—it will pour incredible energy and vitality into those already in your church family. We have been doing this for a long time, not as the best or only way, but as a very good way you might prayerfully consider for your church, too. Maybe most surprising is how, despite our designing Good Friday services exclusively for impacting believers, we later learn that people are saved in these services every year. (For more on how effective evangelism is best as a byproduct of a vertical church, not a primary goal of the church gathered, check out “Unafraid Witness” from Vertical Church.)
3: Somber reflection is not the enemy of Easter celebration, but rather the means to its highest expression.
At Harvest we’ve built a very particular culture around our Good Friday services. These services are sacrificial and sad. We ask our whole church to drive, some as much as 75 minutes, to our original campus. There the most talented music, spoken word, media, and creative arts people in our entire family pool their gifts together with all the production, tech, lighting, and others who are serving to create something incredibly special and impactful. The fact that it is inconvenient is good. Jesus didn’t lower the discipleship bar to build numbers and neither should we. Ask people to do a hard thing, challenge them to change their pattern, turn off the TV, lean in to the Lord. Read More