You may not be aware of this but among we clergy types the first Sunday after Easter is commonly known as “low” Sunday. It is given this label in reference to general attendance patterns in pretty much all churches. Traditionally Palm Sunday brings out decent crowds, Good Friday a significant drop as only a faithful remnant of the congregation shows up. But then with Easter Sunday and all the joy, celebration, laughter, and enthusiasm, the pews tend to fill up dramatically. Entire families might take up one pew, and there’s a good chance we’ll see that same pew filled with those same faces Christmas Eve. As we know, Easter is the core, religion-defining day of the Church’s birth (some might argue Pentecost holds that distinction but not me). It is an all-out party of the resurrection, and seats are hard to find.
The next Sunday, however, “Easter 2” as it’s called in the Church calendar, is usually quite different. Gone are the visitors from afar, the family in town for Easter. Gone too are the twice-a-year worshippers and the curious passersby who just want to see what Christians do on Easter. What’s left is what came before, and it’s not hard to find a seat. Low Sunday. There is something a bit anti-climactic about coming to church the week after Easter (Sorry, Ed. Whittingham, for it appears I’m setting you up for quite a downer. Not my intention. Actually Ed is a very good speaker with very insightful ideas and experiences to share, usually concerning our care for the planet and how God calls us to be good stewards of this good earth. You would do well to worship with Ed this Sunday!). But on “Easter 2” the eggs have been put away, eaten, or thrown out; chocolate bunnies stashed away in dresser drawers to be nibbled on for a week or two; and Jesus has been raised, we already know the tomb is empty. The spiritual climax to which we had been journeying all through Lent has occurred. Easter is over. Or maybe not.
There’s a lot in life that’s anti-climactic, isn’t there? Every year I get excited about the Superbowl or the Stanley Cup finals, but ask me six month’s later which teams battled it out and it will take me a few seconds to remember. The moment of a Superbowl victory is thrilling but generally wears off pretty quickly. Same goes for a Stanley Cup championship, I think, at least as a fan. Of course the dreaded anti-climax can assault our careers, families, even our marriages, life in general. Remember the day you picked up that brand new, fresh off the assembly line, zero kilometres on the odometer, gleaming new car? The wonderful “new car” smell was intoxicating, and you pledged to yourself that at all costs you’d keep that smell alive. Sadly, only 6 months later the car no longer gleams, that pleasing aroma is long gone, and you find yourself casually tossing empty starbucks cups on the floor of the passenger seat, to be cleaned up when you get around to it. When did the daily excitement of driving that new car become mundane, routine, anti-climactic?
Can life itself be anti-climactic? My Buddhist friends might answer by stating, “Well, it all depends on one’s expectations of life?”, and I, from my Christian perspective would agree. Fundamental to growth, within one of the many and diverse Buddhist traditions, is usually the development of a proper, honest outlook on what life is, what it can be, what it’s meant to be. Certain truths must be confronted, accepted, leading to ways of understanding what’s happening even in the formulation of our life expectations. Once the cause of one’s suffering (we might say that sense of feeling persistent anti-climax) is clarified, then changes are made to seek life that is less disappointing, more fulfilling, more peaceful, more balanced.
Jesus expressed some of this thinking with his repeated attempts to remind listeners of the fallacy that is materialism. “How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…” These words were not a condemnation of the rich man’s status as being wealthy. Rather Jesus comments on how challenging it is for the wealthy to embrace his teachings and to indeed give up what needs to be given up, change attitudes needing change. Truly it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom. No judgment upon riches here, more judgment on the allure of materialism and misplaced life priorities. Jesus also said “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume; rather store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” What are those heavenly treasures? I leave that to you to figure out.
What do we expect from life? What do you expect? The continual accumulation of things, sometimes in competition with our friends and neighbours? The dream house and a cabin near Invermere? The latest 2013 vehicle that promises to bring happiness to your life? The spouse who will always look the same way she did on your wedding day? Do we expect fairness from life? Excitement? Climactic moment after climactic moment? Do we expect life to entertain us? What if in all these things we come to know the let down of the anti-climactic, spending our lives hunting after the ever elusive thrill, and then another, and then another? Never satisfied, always searching.
There is always God, my friends. God waits for us, God is patient. And when we find ourselves ready for the deeper blessings of this life God has given us, God will be more than eager to assist us on the journey, to show us the Way to life in its fullness, to take us through dark, unsatisfying valleys to green pastures of fulfilment, joy and peace that lasts.
By the way, Ed, no matter how many join you for worship this “low” Sunday, God will be there. May you be blessed this Sunday. May all of us be blessed this life by the God who wants to journey with us, wants to help us avoid the pitfalls of the anti-climactic, the God who holds out before us the offer of abundant and fulfilling living.