While most area churches are celebrating Easter in some form, the celebrations differ significantly from congregation to congregation.
For Father John Rollinson, rector of St. James Episcopal Church, maintaining liturgical traditions passed down for centuries is important.
“Jesus said, ‘If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.’ Holy Week is a particularly good time to be focusing on the cross,” Rollinson said. “Generally in the Episcopal Church a good percentage of people make a point to be in church for at least some of the daily services during Holy Week.”
Those services include foot washing on Thursday, veneration and kissing of the cross on Good Friday, and a vigil from Thursday night to noon on Good Friday — all part of the ancient liturgical calendar maintained by a church that advertises itself as having “Catholic worship — evangelical preaching.”
For conservative Lutherans such as the Rev. Scott Blaze, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, continuity with liturgical tradition is often but not always helpful.
“At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther wanted to return the church to the Word of God as its sole authority for faith and doctrine while maintaining reverent and orderly worship for the people that always held Jesus Christ and his word central,” Blazek said. “Luther’s reform included returning to the worship of early Christians in the fourth century, reclaiming the ancient liturgy while rolling back man-made doctrines of relics and other forms that had slowly crept into the Church and detracted from the gospel proclamation. If the traditions didn’t compete with the gospel, but rather supported it, Luther generally kept it in the corporate worship service.”
Blazek said his denomination, the Missouri Synod, typically allows for some liturgical freedom from congregation to congregation. In his church, Holy Week services included a special candlelight service remembering Christ’s last words from the cross on Good Friday.
Liturgy isn’t a major concern for Pastor Joseph Vest of Central Baptist Church. Vest said in the past he’s dressed up as a firefighter and climbed down from an organ loft to get the attention of members, but doesn’t focus on liturgy.
“We don’t erect crosses or things, we just do what we do,” Vest said. “I don’t really know why, it’s just never been part of who we are.”
Vest’s focus is on preaching and evangelistic outreach.
“The Bible teaches the power of the resurrection is the power to live the Christian life,” Vest said. “We understand we will have lots of folks on Easter. We prepare more bulletins and we expect more people but we’re beginning a (sermon) series this week and it will be something that is relevant and creative.”
For some Christian groups such as the Churches of Christ, observing Easter simply doesn’t happen. Since Scripture doesn’t specifically teach that Christians should observe Easter, the Churches of Christ generally don’t do so.
“We don’t celebrate it as a stand-alone kind of holiday; we celebrate the birth, death and resurrection every Sunday,” said Mike Kennedy, preacher at the 21st Street Church of Christ. “We won’t, as many groups do, decorate our building for Easter. There won’t be banners and drapery or crosses with purple or white. We are preaching the word and the word is where the power is.”