Flowers are blooming everywhere. Flowering trees are splattering beauty and color throughout neighborhoods (here in Atlanta we're enjoying the Dogwoods). Most days are bright and sunny. Dried up brown things are transforming into lush, dewy green things. More and more people are hitting the streets in tenni-shoes, finally addressing that resolution they made to "get fit" at the turn of the new year. And all good church-folk are in full swing of the Lenten season, preparing - in varous ways - our hearts and minds for Easter, our highest holiday.
I wonder though, are we also preparing ourselves for Easter Sunday Worship services? Services that will surely be, as they always are, standing room only, filled with new and unrecognized faces, and a stranger or two daring to sit in our places in church pews. You know - The places we always sit, every Sunday, when our "good" selves are where we're supposed to be. The nerve of some people, right?
Well shame on me. I can't tell you how many times I (and I'm not the only one) have attended Easter celebrations in the past and whispered to a friend or family member:
"Where are all these people every other Sunday of the year?"
"Niiiice. We have to stand, TODAY of all days, because someone decided they'd show up for church. How come they can only manage to get out of bed on Christmas and Easter?"
Let me take a detour long enough to say that my church, and I know many other churches, are wonderfully welcoming places who are always excited to meet new people. Even so, sometimes a person's claim on their place in the pews can override, if even for just a moment, their desire to be welcoming and gracious. To be totally honest, I've thought these things myself - on random Sundays that aren't even tied to a holiday. As much of a "hugger" as I am, I like my seat, and I like space around me. I've even gotten up and moved when I feel like others are "too close". Can you imagine! Those are the days I find myself brushing up against the very real need to "get over myself". I mean what a crappy attitude to have. I sure don't want to have it on Easter of all days! I don't want to be that kind of Christian - I don't want to be that kind of person - ever, not in any setting. I especially don't want to display that kind of reproachful, self-righteous, unloving "all about me" attitude on a day that is all about our Savior.
The truth is, I should be thrilled that there are people giving faith in Jesus another shot this year - or maybe even giving it their first shot ever. And when I successfully remove my desire for self from the equation, I am honestly thrilled to see new faces in church pews - even if the new face is in my seat. After all if the new face is that of someone who is throwing their hands up, fed up with life as they've known it, desperate to find out if this whole "savior" business has any substance to it, and finally willing to give Jesus that one last shot - then they're someone a lot like I was many years ago.
And so wouldn't it be a sin for any of us regular church-goers to render an audible sigh (and maybe even a roll of the eyes) when having to squish in or find another seat - possibly making someone feel unwelcome, unwanted and unloved? Don't enough people struggle with these feelings day-to-day already without having to feel them during a yearly visit to a local church? Maybe that new face is someone looking for the unconditional love and acceptance that can only be found in Jesus. Maybe they're hoping that this is the year they've stumbled into a church full of people who upon seeing a new face in church - even when that new face is staring up from your seat - smile warmly, stick out a hand to shake, introduce themselves and say "Welcome! Happy Easter! It's so nice to meet you."