This Sunday we will see people in church who don’t attend worship at any other time of the year. What a wonderful opportunity to share the good news of the new life offered to all through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. My theory is that what draws many people to worship on Easter is mystery. “Listen. I will tell you a mystery! We will not die, but we will all be changed…” (1 Corinthians 15:51)
Mystery is defined as something that eludes understanding or cannot be fully explained. There is something more going on than meets the eye. In the Catholic Church, a mystery is any of the 15 events in the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary meditated upon during the recitation of the rosary. A mystery play is a medieval dramatic form based on a biblical story, usually dealing with the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Protestants and Catholics alike often refer to the sacraments as mysteries. Our United Methodist document on communion is called This Holy Mystery. Exactly how Christ offers himself to us in the bread and the cup as well as in the water of baptism is beyond our comprehension. Yet Christ’s presence in the sacraments is a powerful means of grace as we become one with him in life and death.
Mystery has to do with our innate human desire to be part of something larger than ourselves, to fill that God-shaped void in our hearts with the divine. That’s why I always get choked up when I watch a parade or see fireworks on the Fourth of July. These communal celebrations are a symbol of the privileges I enjoy as an American citizen but also remind me of my mysterious connection with the rest of the world and that God calls me to responsibly share my resources and wealth with others.
When President Ford’s memorial service was at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids in January, I walked over to the church, which is just minutes from my house. Tears welled up in my eyes as I observed the solemnity and pageantry of the occasion. I knew I was part of an historic and sacred moment that not only transcended my understanding but awakened a desire in me to make a difference in the world.
When I am standing on top of a mountain in Colorado or walking the beach by Lake Michigan, or running deep in the woods, I feel it again. It’s the sense that although I am just a speck in the universe, I am also an integral part of God’s eternal plan for this world.
The mystery of being human is that God is alive in each one of us and calls us to be Christ-like. The deep need to attend to that mystery irresistibly draws people into the drama of Holy Week. Your challenge this week will be to create an atmosphere in worship where all of God’s children – disciples, seekers, skeptics, agnostics and doubters alike – meet an awesome God who is wholly other, yet wholly present, and where they will be able to embrace the mystery of the cross and resurrection as a sign of grace and hope for the world.
Some things to consider:
- Do you provide a time of silent meditation before or during worship so people can prepare their hearts to meet God?
- Have you considered how liturgy can connect people with the centuries old traditions of the church?
- Do your hymns and songs have a theological depth which addresses the paradoxes and mysteries of faith?
- Does your preaching meet people where they are and allow them to wrestle with their doubts and fears, while always offering grace?
- Do the visual elements in the worship place transport people into the realm of the holy?
- Can you touch the hearts of those who may not be in church any other Sunday this year, so that they will feel moved to deepen their faith commitment?
- Can you resist the temptation to provide all the answers and instead encourage people to love the questions?
- Can you embrace mystery as a necessary part of our faith?
It’s not accidental that the word “mystery” comes from the Latin word misterium, which is an alteration of the Latin word ministerium, from which we get our English word “minister.” What that means is that as a minister, you embody mystery! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.”
How God will use you this week to offer to your congregation something greater than themselves is a mystery. How people’s lives will be transformed because of the movement of the Holy Spirit in your church during Holy Week cannot be explainable. How your sermons will minister to people in a hundred different ways will never be able to be quantified. How the horror of the crucifixion can be redeemed by the empty tomb cannot be adequately answered. How we represent Christ when none of us is worthy cannot be understood. How the gifts of the bread and the cup of that Last Supper become for us the body of Christ is the mystery of faith.
We don’t understand. Yet we know deep in our hearts that Christ is risen and that the greatest mystery of all is: love wins. Love always wins. As stewards of God’s mysteries, may God bless you with power and strength in your prayer, your preparation and your worship this week.