Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
April 15, 2001

Why churches will have their largest attendance of the year today

Easter Sunday! Hallelujah! What a day! Glory Hallelujah!

The cynic will say, "Hold on there, preacher; why get so excited? Easter is nothing more than another day on the calendar."

I understand that skepticism. I know that for millions of people the Christian celebration of Easter holds little fascination. I know too that for many people Easterís primary allurement is financial; it is a good time to make a buck selling shoes, clothes, bunnies, and lilies. Many believers embrace Easterís materialism by buying "Easter shoes" and "Easter clothes."

Still I confess my enthusiasm for the day. Across the world our churches will be bulging with people. More people will attend church today than on any other Sunday of the year.

We have all heard the joke too about the preacher who will say "Merry Christmas" on Easter because he knows some in the crowd will not be back in church until next Easter. I have never done that and donít plan to start doing it. There is nothing gained from embarrassing people. I want the so-called Easter crowd to know that I am glad to see them anytime because church attendance is voluntary. What I will do is try to preach so they will want to come back next Sunday!

So why do more people go to church on Easter Sunday than any other Sunday? The question is worthy of consideration. And I think I know why.

People know that Easter is about resurrection and all people are intrigued by the possibility of an afterlife. People want to believe that there is life after death, and that it is possible to go to heaven and escape hell. Within every person there seems to be an innate yearning to live on beyond the grave.

Most of us do not want to bed down with the skeptic in the assumption that physical death is the end. We long to believe that there has to be a better plan for life than simply to "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die." Even in the darkest of earthís nights, we hold tightly to the belief that there has got to be another morning. God teaches us his people are people of the dawn. We are not people of the night, which death represents; we are people of the day. As the poet has expressed it, God has turned all our sunsets into dawns.

There is beautiful symbolism here. As the sun sets, and night comes on, we become weary. We lie down at night in exhaustion, sometimes overcome with despair. We must give up our management of the world and surrender to rest. Fear drapes its cloak over us and we close our blinds to hide in the safety of our homes.

Then comes the dawn! The sun rises gently and warmly. We are rested and refreshed with new strength. We arise to greet the dawn and Godís unmerited gift to us is the sunshine of a new day filled with opportunities for life, joy, and freedom. We are alive with new energy and excitement. Our fear subsides as we welcome the coming of the morning! Few things in the human experience compare to this feeling.

People come to Easter worship then because they like the feeling of being called morning people. They may not be ready yet to embrace "the church" but they do want to hear the good news about "the Christ" who was raised from the dead. They may never admit it to anyone, but inside they want to believe that the resurrection story is true. Some will continue nursing the hope that one day they too will be able to put their doubts aside and believe.

If Jesus really did kick out the end of that tomb and return from the dead, then there may be a chance for the rest of us to make it to the other side. If Jesus really did conquer death, then perhaps there is a chance that he can help us overcome the hard problems of our lives. If Jesus actually did break out of the tomb, then perhaps he can break these chains that bind us to the nightís cruelties and fears.

If God really did raise Jesus from the dead, then perhaps there is a chance that I can go to heaven and see my mother again, or my daddy, my son, my daughter, and my friends. Somehow Easter Sunday renews our hope of heaven. Deep within us there is this longing that there really is more after this body begins decaying in a dark, lonesome grave. What powerful symbolism there is in the way the church celebrates Easter. We begin the day with sunrise services because for Christians Easter is the day we celebrate the rising of the Son! Caught in the dreadful clutch of dark nightís death, when morning came He was alive! So Christians are Easter people, of the dawn!

As people crowd into our churches on this glad morning, it will be the preacherís great privilege to help his hearers "hear the brush of Angelesís wings" and catch a glimpse of the Lord of the Morning who is alive forevermore!