Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Your Pastor Wasn't At Church Yesterday

At worship yesterday morning, our Youth Director filled in for the pastor while giving the welcome to the congregation, saying that he was out of town that day, so it would be "The Staff and Intern Show" that morning.

I wasn't the least bit surprised.

While it's reasonably well-understood that Easter is the most important holiday (read: "holy day") of the Christian faith, I don't know how many Christians grasp just how intense that day—and the week or more leading up to it—can be on the leaders of a local congregation.

Let's just talk about that last week. First, you've got Palm Sunday, which often includes some bit of pageantry involving the kids with palm branches. Someone had to organize those kids, and someone had to buy (or otherwise obtain) those palm branches. For most churches, Palm Sunday is clearly a bit more than what goes on during a typical Sunday.

Many churches have been gathering on Wednesdays during the season of Lent, but on this last week, your church may be able to skip that one. If so, consider yourself lucky, but before you've had a chance to appreciate that respite, it's time for the Maundy Thursday gathering. This almost always involves communion, which means (for those churches that don't do communion every worship gathering anyway) an extra bit of work, as you not only have to ensure bread and wine (or grape juice) is available, but church leaders have to be found to help serve the elements, and the communion table or altar (depending on your tradition) must be prepared with appropriate linens, utensils, and worship symbols. Besides all that, some churches go the extra mile, and add a foot washing element to all that, which means having water, and basins, and towels, etc., and personnel to carry these back and forth so that the entire congregation can participate.

Then, on the very next day, you've got Good Friday, which is typically a much simpler undertaking, but you'll still need to have a sermon (which, of course, was needed for the other worship events already. That's a lot of writing!), and some churches add a Passion play to all that (if one wasn't already done on Palm Sunday, that is), which means finding a script, and actors, and props, and someone to direct or coordinate the event (if, of course, the pastor isn't taking all this on him or herself).

Those churches especially inclined toward tradition have a gathering on Saturday, as well, called the "Easter Vigil." This is usually a long event, even in those churches that have scaled down the traditional overnight observance that used to last until sunrise of Sunday morning. But, again, you've got a bunch of Scripture readings, and songs, and a sermon, and communion, and whatever else fits into that couple of hours (I said it was a long event, didn't I?) to coordinate and/or put together.

That brings us to the Easter gathering itself (and that's assuming just one. Many churches have multiple worship events on Easter Sunday, even if they don't already have multiple gatherings on Sunday to start with). Whatever pageantry had to be coordinated for Palm Sunday, amp that up for Easter. After all, this is the big one! The celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead! The pivotal event of all human history! And besides all the bells and whistles going on in the rest of the worship time, whatever sermon you write for Easter Sunday needs to be extra special!

Having survived all that, the week after Easter Sunday is a traditional time for pastors to take a Sunday off. I don't mean to suggest that they're out playing golf somewhere. They're probably worshiping in some congregation that they didn't have to prepare anything for! The point is, they're taking a well-deserved rest. They'll be back next week, ready to do all the stuff they usually do behind the scenes once again, helping the congregation to worship God afresh each Sunday.

When you see you pastor or priest again in a week or two, be sure to thank him or her.

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