In his powerful book, Brother to a Dragonfly, Will D. Campbell relates a late night conversation with his old friend named P. D. East. Campbell shares that East had long referred to the church as the “Easter chicken,” and in this conversation he explained the origin of the term. He told about the time he had purchased a little purple chick for his daughter for Easter. His daughter loved that chick – for a while. As long as it was cute, she loved it: when it began to sprout feathers, the mix of purple and red, it was quite a sight. The little girl didn’t want anything more to do with that little Easter chicken. P. D. East put the little purple and red chicken in a relative’s chicken yard. The other chickens didn’t like it – they knew it was different. They resisted it; they pecked it; they chased it all over the yard; they ignored it. The little Easter chicken didn’t fight back. It stayed to itself.
It took a little while, but before all the purple feathers had grown out, that little chicken came around. Pretty soon it was behaving like the rest of the chickens in the yard. It would fight back. It would chase the smaller chickens. Before long, you couldn’t tell the Easter chicken from any of the others. It was just another chicken.
The point that he was making was about the church. The church was just another organization; it had started out differently, but the world had changed it. No longer can one see the difference between the church and any other service organization. It may do good things from time to time, but lots of organizations do good things. Calling the institutional church the “Easter chicken” was P. D. East’s way of saying that the church was no longer what it was meant to be.
In 1666 a great fire broke out in London and swept through most of the city. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, and most of the buildings of the city authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants. In the great fire, the three-centuries-old St. Paul’s Cathedral was burned to the ground. World renowned architect Sir Christopher Wren was contracted to design and rebuild the great Anglican cathedral.
Wren sent a workman for a stone to mark the spot in the blackened ruins where the new and more glorious church would be constructed. The stone chosen, as if by chance, had once been a grave marker in St. Paul’s churchyard cemetery. Still legible on the worn stone were the words “I shall arise.” That cathedral would rise again from the ashes where it still stands to this day!
It is easy to forget what our central message is about and to become “Easter chickens” in the busyness of life. But Easter is a reminder of the very foundation of our faith. It calls the church back to its epicenter of proclaiming that this same God, who raised Jesus to new life, can resurrect you and me to new life in Christ! If Christ is not risen, so says the Apostle Paul, our faith is in vain.
I recently ran across an Easter hymn that was unfamiliar to me. It is titled “This Joyful Eastertide.” Allow me to share the first stanza with you:
This joyful Eastertide, away with sin and sorrow!
My love, the crucified, has sprung to life this morrow.
Had Christ, who once was slain, ne’er burst his three-day prison,
Our faith had been in vain, but now has Christ arisen!
I trust that you will join me as we journey together toward Easter this Holy Week as we remember the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, April 18, with come-and-go Holy Communion from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. As you enter the main sanctuary, you will be given a prayer and meditation guide. Feel free to sit, pray and come to the chancel rail to receive the sacrament when you are ready.
Then, on Good Friday, April 19, at 7:00 p.m. we will gather once again in the main sanctuary for a full worship service known as a “Service of Darkness” as we recall the crucifixion and death of Jesus as we all participate in the Sacred Liturgy for Good Friday. The chancel choir will be presenting reverent and reflective music appropriate for the moment, and I have a message to share entitled “The Three Crosses.” The service will conclude with the historic “stripping of the chancel” where all the purple paraments and accoutrements and symbols of our faith will be removed from the sanctuary and the chancel draped in black. We will then depart in silence together.
These worship experiences always prove deeply moving and I hope you will plan to be a part as we prepare for the glories of Easter Sunday. Asbury will host four worship services on Easter: a 6:30 a.m. Sunrise service on Prayer Mountain hosted by “The Bridge” as our contemporary worship, followed by three traditional services in the main sanctuary at 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00 a.m.
Please know that I am praying for you and your family that this Holy Week will draw you closer to the very heart of God, and that you will know the joys of resurrection!
With much love,