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Christian Living

Is Ascension Day the Fifth Christian Holy Day?

Celebrate Jesus’s Return to Heaven, Which Prepares the Way for Pentecost

In my post The Four Main Christian Celebrations, I list for holy days (holidays) that smartly recognize Jesus and succinctly outline the key elements of his life and what he did for us. These Christian holidays are:

  1. Jesus’s Birthday (Christmas)
  2. Jesus’s Sacrificial Death (Good Friday)
  3. Resurrection Sunday (Easter)
  4. Pentecost

I wonder if I should add Ascension Day to the list. It is, after all, a critical element in the arc of Jesus’s life.

What is Ascension Day?

Ascension Day occurs forty days after Resurrection Sunday (better known as Easter). On Easter Jesus rises from the dead. He spends forty days with his friends and followers to prove he is alive.

Then he gives his disciples the directive to wait in Jerusalem for a special gift—the Holy Spirit—that Papa will send (Acts 1:4). After his parting words, he ascends into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).

Ascension Day falls on Thursday, so the date differs each year.

Out of convenience many churches acknowledge Jesus’s returned to heaven on the following Sunday, which they call Ascension Sunday—even though it didn’t happen on the first day of the week.

Ascension Day is critical, for Jesus had to return to heaven before his followers—and we—could receive the Holy Spirit. Without Jesus leaving, Pentecost couldn’t have occurred.

The Five Holidays That Commemorate Jesus’s Life

Putting these five days together reveals a sound theological understanding of the essential role Jesus plays in our faith journey. Here it is:

Jesus comes to earth (Christmas). After he spends three years to teach his disciples and talk about the kingdom of God, he dies as our once-and-for-all sacrifice to cover all the mistakes we—and everyone else throughout time—have ever made (Good Friday).

To prove he has the authority to make the ultimate sacrifice for us, he overcomes death by rising from the dead (Easter). After confirming he is alive, he returns to heaven (Ascension Day) so that we may receive the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).

Recognizing these five days as Christian holy days and celebrating these holidays reminds us each year of the essential elements of the gospel story, God’s good news to save humanity.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Have a Good Friday

Happy Good Friday

Today is Good Friday. Happy Good Friday! Seriously.

Today is the day we remember Jesus’ sacrifice so that we could be made right with God. It stands as the ultimate sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

For many people, Good Friday is a solemn day, in which we take time to gratefully recall how Jesus was mistreated, abused, and ultimately killed—for our benefit to make us right with Father God.

The intensity of his suffering is powerfully captured in Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ. If you’ve not seen it, today would be an ideal time to do so. And if you have seen it, today would be a perfect time to watch it again.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end with Jesus dying on the cross or even dead and buried in the tomb.

In two days we will joyfully celebrate Easter, commemorating when Jesus overcame death, painting the picture of what is in store for all who follow him.

Easter, better called Resurrection Sunday, remembers Jesus defeating death by rising from the dead.

It is in knowing what happens next, that I can say, Happy Good Friday! Though it wasn’t a happy day for Jesus, it is a happy day for us.

Thank you Jesus for who you are and what you did to save us these many years ago.

Discover more about celebrating Jesus and his passion to save us in Peter’s new book, The Passion of Jesus. It is part of the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Celebrating the Passion of Jesus

Embrace the Season of Lent in a Fresh Way

Many Christians and churches celebrate the season of Lent to remember Jesus and his passion for coming to earth to die for us and our sins.

This is a gift to us and not something we need to earn. When we accept Jesus’s present, he makes us right with Father God and reconciles us to him.

In this devotional, we’ll remember the season of Lent, building up to Jesus’s greatest gift to us: his death as the ultimate sin sacrifice.

Traditionally, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues through to Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday and Jesus’s death).

Some church calendars, however, end Lent on Good Friday and others on Holy Saturday. (Resurrection Sunday begins the Easter season.)

Because the passion of Jesus culminates with his sacrificial death, we’ll use that to conclude our devotional. This is a matter of convenience and not a theological statement or alignment with one Lenten calendar over another.

We think of Lent as lasting forty days. This parallels the forty days Jesus spends in the desert being tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12–13). This time of testing prepares Jesus for his public ministry, which culminates with his death and subsequent resurrection.

In truth, Lent spans longer than forty days. Though some church calendars tweak the details to make Lent cover forty days, let’s not worry if it’s longer.

Regardless of the details, the purpose of Lent stays the same. During Lent we focus on Jesus and his sacrifice for us.

Depending on the year, Ash Wednesday can start as early as February 4 or as late as March 10. This is because Ash Wednesday always occurs forty-four days before Good Friday, which falls on a different date each year.

Given this, we’ll treat the days of Lent as building up to Good Friday, starting with Day 1 on Ash Wednesday.

We’ll begin our story with Jesus’s prediction that he will die—and then rise again. Following that, we’ll focus on what occurs during Holy Week, starting just prior to Palm Sunday (the week before Easter).

This means we’ll expand the events of Jesus’s last few days before his crucifixion to span most of this devotional’s Lenten readings.

As a result, we’ll cover events prior to their appearance on the church calendar. For example, we’ll cover Palm Sunday on Day 6, several weeks before its actual date on the calendar.

As we move forward, we’ll give primary attention to the account in Matthew, weaving in passages from Mark, Luke, and John. This will give us a holistic perspective of the sacrificial death of our Savior.

We’ll also incorporate Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah to expand our appreciation. Along the way, we’ll tap into our imagination to better see things from the perspective of Jesus, his disciples, and the people he meets.

Throughout this, the goal is to consider Jesus’s passion and sacrifice for us from several vantages to offer a comprehensive Lenten devotional.

The result is an inclusive meditation to remember Jesus’s resolute aim to die on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to end all sacrifices and save humanity. May God speak to you during this Lenten season.

Join us this lent in Celebrating the passion of Jesus.

Discover more about celebrating Jesus and his passion to save us in Peter’s new book, The Passion of Jesus. It is part of the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

Categories
Christian Living

Exploring the Church Calendar

Embrace Annual Cycles of Worship to Provide a Regular Rhythm to Our Faith Journey

Some churches follow a church calendar throughout the year to guide them into seasons of worship. This provides an annual rhythm to their embrace of God.

Other churches are less structured in their approach, focusing on two major biblical holidays: Christmas and Easter. Even so, it’s good to be aware of the traditional church calendar.

There is no single agreed upon calendar that all churches follow, with each applying their own unique approach.

Yet there are some general concepts that most church calendars follow. Note that church calendars don’t start on the first of the year but instead begin with Jesus’s birth.

Here’s a generic overview of the church calendar.

Advent

We call the time leading up to Christmas Advent. It begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas, which yields differing starting dates each year.

Some churches, however, are flexible with the start of Advent. They begin on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving (in the United States) or the first Sunday in December.

Often—but not always—this coincides with the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas.

Christmas Day

On Christmas Day we celebrate the birth of Jesus who came to earth to save us. This date is one of tradition more so than the Savior’s actual birth. No one knows for sure, but spring is a more likely time.

Epiphany (the day)

Epiphany occurs twelve days after Christmas, traditionally marking the Magi’s arrival to visit baby Jesus.

Christmastide

Some churches call the time between Christmas Day and Epiphany Christmastide. Other practices end Christmastide on New Years Day.

Epiphany (the season)

Confusing our understanding of the church calendar, some churches celebrate the season of Epiphany, instead of just one day. It starts on the day of Epiphany and ends with the beginning of Lent.

Other churches, however, have a break in their church calendar celebrations, calling the time between the day of Epiphany and Lent as “Ordinary Time.”

Lent

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is six weeks prior to Good Friday. Though we commonly think of Lent as lasting forty days, the reality is that they don’t count Sundays to make the numbers work.

The ending of Lent varies greatly. It can be on Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, the day before Easter, or the beginning of Holy Week.

What matters in all this, however, is that Lent moves us toward Jesus’s death for our sins and his resurrection from the grave.

Good Friday and Easter

Good Friday and Easter—more appropriately called Resurrection Sunday—celebrate Jesus and his all-important mission of coming to earth to save us.

On Good Friday Jesus died for us and the wrong things we did. He was buried in a tomb. On Resurrection Sunday he rose from the grave, proving his mastery over death.

Eastertide

The season after Jesus rose from the grave on Resurrection Sunday is called Eastertide.

For some church calendars, Eastertide lasts forty days and ends on Ascension Day, which occurs on Thursday, even though many churches celebrate it the following Sunday.

For other churches Eastertide lasts fifty days and ends on Pentecost.

Ascension Day

Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven. We call this Ascension Day. This occurs on Thursday each year, but many churches celebrate it the following Sunday.

Pentecost

Fifty days after Resurrection Sunday (Easter), and ten days after Ascension Day, God sent the Holy Spirit to Jesus’s church to fill them and guide them, just as he promised.

Ordinary Time

Church calendars label the days between Pentecost and Advent as Ordinary Time. It is, in fact, an ordinary time. It’s the space on church calendars without any religious holidays or celebrations.

Some churches also observe a short season of Ordinary Time between the day of Epiphany and Lent.

Celebrate Jesus Throughout the Year

Whether your church calendar celebrates all these seasons and dates or focuses on Christmas and Easter, we should all celebrate Jesus throughout the year.

The first four devotional books in the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series guide us in doing just that:

  1. The Advent of Jesus covers the season of Advent, Christmas Day, and ends on Epiphany.
  2. The Ministry of Jesus focuses on what Jesus did leading up to his death and resurrection, that is, his earthly ministry. It’s an ideal devotional for Ordinary Time, be it between Epiphany and Lent or between Pentecost and Advent.
  3. The Passion of Jesus covers the season of Lent and concludes on Good Friday (Eastertide).
  4. The Victory of Jesus begins on Resurrection Sunday (Easter) and goes through to Pentecost.

Reading these four devotionals in this order provide a comprehensive understanding of Jesus’s life and mission as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Learn more about the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series.

Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series, by Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

Categories
Christian Living

God Sends Us a Gift on Pentecost

On Pentecost God Gives Us the Holy Spirit as Our Guide to Replace the Law

Pentecost occurs fifty days after Resurrection Sunday (Easter). It’s a significant event in the early church. That’s when the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus’s followers in an extraordinary way.

The Holy Spirit empowers team Jesus to share his good news with others with amazing power. This is the gift Jesus promised to give them, which he told them to wait for in Jerusalem.

Pentecost

Interestingly, Pentecost only pops up three times in the Bible (Acts 2:1, Acts 20:16, and 1 Corinthians 16:8). This New Testament word doesn’t appear at all in the Old Testament. Where did it come from?

Pentecost is a Greek word. It means fifty days. Pentecost first occurred fifty days after Jesus’s death (Good Friday)—and after Jesus instituted the first Communion, which occurred on Passover.

Festival of Weeks (Shavuot)

Let’s go back to the Old Testament and look at the Festival of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-22). This occurs fifty days after Passover. Interestingly, the Festival of Weeks is an Old Testament term and doesn’t show up in the New Testament.

Though I prefer to use the Bible to study the Bible, in this case I needed to consult nonbiblical sources. Here’s what I learned:

The Festival of Weeks in the Bible is now known as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Fifty Days. This may be better known as Shavuot, the day cited as when Moses descended from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and the Law of God, the Torah.

Connecting the Old and New Testaments

Think about it. In the Old Testament, fifty days after the first Passover, God gives his people the Law—the rules he expects them to follow.

In the New Testament, fifty days after the first Communion (which occurred on Passover), God gives his people the Holy Spirit—his indwelling presence to guide them in following him.

In the Old Testament, God gives his people the Law through Moses. In the New Testament, God gives his people the Holy Spirit through Jesus. So amazing! Thank you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Embracing Good Friday

We Revere Jesus’s Death So We Can Celebrate His Resurrection

I’m never sure of what verb to attach to Good Friday. It’s a Christian holiday, a holy day.

Though I do sometimes say celebrate Good Friday, it doesn’t seem like the right word. Neither does happy Good Friday, even though the outcome for us is a happy one.

We celebrate Christmas, and we celebrate Easter. These are grand expressions filled with delight and joy. We rejoice and we throw a spiritual party for God. Not so with Good Friday.

Yes, we can celebrate the truth that Jesus died in our place for the things we’ve done wrong. I’m most grateful for him providing the ultimate sin sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

And I celebrate even more what happens three days later when he defeats death by rising from the dead.

Though I don’t think I’ve ever said it, perhaps remember Good Friday might be a more appropriate sentiment. When we remember what Jesus did for us, we do so with solemn reverence.

His great sacrifice for us—even though we don’t deserve it—drives us to silence.

Other words might be to commemorate Good Friday or to observe Good Friday. To me, however, these descriptors are too formal. They push Good Friday to a stoic distance.

I don’t want that. I want to feel—though to a small degree—Jesus’s pain, suffering, and sacrifice. I want Good Friday to remind me of this greatest of all struggles that Jesus did for me, that Jesus did for us.

And in this way, I do celebrate Good Friday, albeit with reverence, awe, and remorse. And I’ll keep hold of that feeling for a few days until it’s time to celebrate Easter.

As you consider these thoughts, here are some other posts about Good Friday:

Discover more about celebrating Jesus and his passion to save us in Peter’s new book, The Passion of Jesus. It is part of the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

The Season of Lent

Celebrate Jesus and His Death on the Cross to Save Us

Traditionally, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. It continues through to Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday and Jesus’s death). Some church calendars, however, end Lent on Good Friday and others on Holy Saturday. This is the season of Lent. (Resurrection Sunday begins the Easter season.)

Fasting

Lent is a time when some followers of Jesus practice weekly fasting. This starts after Ash Wednesday. Though fasting is a Biblical concept, Ash Wednesday and Lent are not. There are no Scriptural mentions of either day. They were added later to the church calendar.

We think of Lent as lasting forty days. This mirrors the forty days Jesus spends in the desert being tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12–13). This time of testing prepares Jesus for his public ministry.

Three years later, his work culminates with his death on the cross to cover humanity’s sins and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. Him rising from the grave proves his mastery over death.

In truth, Lent spans more than forty days. Some church calendars tweak the details to make Lent cover forty days, by not counting Sundays. But let’s not worry if it’s actually longer.

Ash Wednesday

Depending on the year, Ash Wednesday can start as early as February 4 or as late as March 10. This is because Ash Wednesday always occurs forty-four days before Good Friday, which falls on a different date each year.

Regardless of the details, the purpose of Lent stays the same. During the season of Lent, we focus on Jesus and his sacrifice for us. One way we can do this is by fasting or giving up something during this season. We can use this depravation as a reminder to turn our focus on Jesus and what he did for us.

The Sacrifice of Jesus

By his crucifixion on the cross, Jesus died as the ultimate sin sacrifice to end all sacrifices. In doing so he fulfills the Old Testament law and makes us right with Father God. He proves his power to do this on Easter when he rises from the dead.

Discover more about celebrating Jesus and his passion to save us in Peter’s new book, The Passion of Jesus. It is part of the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

Home for Holy Week

It’s Easter and we’re returning home to our church, the people we love and miss. This marks our first Sunday here since last Easter. It’s great to be back for Holy Week.

The 52 Churches Workbook, by Peter DeHaan

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #53:

1. There’s nothing special about the building, except that it’s 150 years old. Even with many enhancements, a dated look pervades. 

What updates does your church need so that it doesn’t feel dated?

2. The pastor welcomes everyone, telling visitors what the regulars already know: there’s no plan for the service, only a general intent. Its length is unknown. It will end when it ends. 

How should you better depend on the Holy Spirit to guide your church service?

3. The worship team launches into song, with worship at its passionate finest, full of joy and abounding in celebration. People on stage jump and dance, with more movement in the congregation than I’ve seen in a long time. 

What does God think about your worship? How can you worship him better?

4. They baptize several people. For many churches, baptism is a somber affair, conducted with reserved formality. Not so here. It’s a celebration of unabashed enthusiasm, with the congregation cheering each baptism. 

How can you move baptism from a religious rite to the spiritual rebirth that it represents?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Which is More Important, Good Friday or Easter?

Should Christians Focus on Worshiping Jesus Who Suffered or Jesus Who Rose from the Dead?

As we moved through Lent to approach Holy Week we anticipate four significant days: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter (which some call Resurrection Sunday).

The last two, Good Friday and Easter, stand as momentous occasions for all those who follow Jesus.

Though Christians worldwide acknowledge both as significant days that are essential to their faith, they tend to place more emphasis on one over the other.

Indeed some choose to worship the suffering Savior, while others focus their attention on the risen Savior.

Good Friday or Easter?

For the first group, Good Friday is their solemn day of remembrance, with Easter as secondary. The other group breezes past Good Friday to arrive at Easter, the pinnacle day for their faith.

In reality, we need both Good Friday and Easter. Without Good Friday, we couldn’t have Easter and without Easter, Good Friday wouldn’t matter.

Jesus needed to die in order to cover all our mistakes and reconcile us with God. He also needed to rise from the dead, to resurrect, proving his mastery over death. We need both death and resurrection.

Jesus Had to Die

Jesus needed to die as our ultimate sacrifice to end all sacrifices and he needed to live again to show that his death wasn’t the end but a new beginning, both for him and for us.

Jesus Had to Rise

Let’s balance our faith practices by placing equal emphasis on Jesus as our Savior who died and who rose from the dead. We need both Good Friday and Easter. May our observances this year show that reality.

Thank you Jesus for dying for us so we don’t have to pay for our mistakes, and thank you Jesus for overcoming death for us so we can, too.

Whether you prefer Good Friday observances or Easter celebrations, this year, seek to embrace both with equal reverence and excitement.

Discover more about celebrating Jesus and his passion to save us in Peter’s new book, The Passion of Jesus. It is part of the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Church 53: Home for Holy Week

Our journey is over. I’m sad and excited at the same time. Our spiritual sojourn of fifty-two churches has ended. Reunion with our home church, church 53, community looms large.

Today is Good Friday and our Easter celebration will be in two days, but I can’t wait for Sunday. I desire a preview, a reminder of our home church. I want a sneak peak of what lies ahead. We head off for our church’s Good Friday service.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

Good Friday Service

This time, I leave my journal at home—on purpose. I’ll not take notes tonight. Documenting my observations isn’t the point: experience is, community is, and family is.

Especially God. I assume a packed place, arriving early to find a good seat, but there’s plenty of room when we get there. We sit and wait. I want to soak in the place. It’s been too long. I need to remember.

I don’t seek out others, but it’s not long before a friend comes up to chat, and then another, and another. With a half hour before the service starts, the minutes pass quickly, as friends fill the time with smiles, hugs, and conversation.

Some can’t believe it’s been a year, that our journey is over. But a few didn’t know we were gone. This is the downside of a larger church. Absences can too easily go unnoticed. This isn’t a lament, just an observation.

Including the balcony, the place seats 475, but the space seems small. Compared to the last two churches, it is. The worship team congregates on the stage.

Our worship leader just had wrist surgery. He won’t be playing guitar for a while, and tonight he’s restricted in what he can do.

There are two others on guitar (one acoustic and one electric), a bass guitar, a keyboard, a drummer, and two backup vocals. I recognize most of the musicians but not all.

They launch into song, with launch being the operative word. It’s loud and energetic, worship at its fervent fullest, packed with joy and abounding in celebration.

Though a few of the churches approached this, and Church #51 (The Megachurch), came close, these folks take worship to another level, being polished and Spirit-led at the same time.

People on stage jump and dance, with more movement in the congregation than I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t need to wait to feel God’s presence or seek him. Without question, he is here.

We sing for forty-five minutes and our pastor gives a brief teaching before we return to song. It’s nice to be able to raise my hands and arms without worrying over committing a faux pas that might disregard local conventions.

After ninety minutes, most with us singing, the service ends. I don’t want it to. But our spent musicians have little left to give, especially our worship leader, whose sweat-drenched shirt confirms he gave his all to God.

I stand, looking for people I don’t know so I can talk to them. My journey has made me more aware of seeking out visitors and those on the margins.

Though I spot several to approach, others are already reaching out to them. That’s what a church should do.

Now feeling free to move about, I seek out friends. It doesn’t take long. Some conversations are brief, while others go deeper. We share prayers and give hugs. A few promise to email me, and I make plans to meet another for coffee.

After half an hour, the crowd begins to thin, but it takes several more minutes for Candy and me to meander to the door.

One friend says, “Have a Good Friday,” and then questions her wording, given the sadness of Jesus’s death.

“It’s good for us!” I say. She nods in agreement.

“Besides, without Good Friday—”

“There’d be no Easter,” we say in unison.

I tarry at the door for a final conversation as the sanctuary goes dark. We’re the last to leave. After two and a half hours, I’m still not ready to go home.

But we’ll be back in two days. Tonight is a foretaste of what is to come.

Sunday Morning Easter Service

It’s Easter and we’re returning home to our church, the people we love and miss. This marks our first Sunday back since last Easter. I expect a joyful homecoming and a grand celebration: personally, corporately, and spiritually.

We arrive early to meet our kids. While our daughter and her husband attend this church, our son and his wife make an hour drive to spend Easter with us, beginning our day together at church.

My plan is to lay low today, but friends spot me as we enter the sanctuary. They’re glad to see me and I, them. They’re not sure if I’m back for good or just visiting.

They seem relieved when I confirm our adventure wasn’t a church shopping exercise and our plan all along was to return after a year.

Our reunion takes place in the aisle, and we’re blocking people, so I excuse myself and look for my family. Even arriving early, there aren’t many places left for six, but they did find a spot.

Instead of roaming around to talk with others, I sit down and soak in the ambience.

There’s nothing special about the building, except perhaps its age. Located in the central downtown district, the sanctuary is over 150 years old.

Though not in disrepair, it’s far from contemporary. Even with many enhancements, a dated feel pervades.

Our pastor welcomes everyone, telling visitors what the regulars already know: there’s no plan for the service today, only a general intent. Its length is unknown, so it will end when it ends. He reiterates that we have freedom in worship.

We may sit or stand or kneel. We may dance or move about—or not. As is our practice, the children remain with us during the service, worshiping along with the adults but often in their own way.

There will also be adult baptism later in the service. A couple of announcements appear via video. With the place now packed, he asks the congregation to move toward the center and make room for those still needing seats.

The worship team is largely the same as Friday, but they changed out a couple of members and added a violin. They start the service with a prayer and then kick off the first song.

The energy level is high, up a notch or two from Good Friday. Some of the songs are the same. Candy says most of them are repeats. She’s probably right.

After thirty minutes or more of singing, we hear a brief message. The church is in a yearlong series—I’ve kept up by listening online.

Today the lesson is about Abraham and Sarah, her scheme for her husband to produce a child through her servant, and his bone-headed acceptance of her suggestion.

Our pastor ties this in with Easter: We all make mistakes, and we all need Jesus, who offers forgiveness and provides restoration.

Our pastor requests all elders to come forward to conduct the baptisms.

The elder assigned for this service goes to the front of the church, and I join him—so much for keeping a low profile. Our fellow elders and staff assemble with us.

Easter Sunday Baptisms

Our pastor shares the basics of baptism. The rite is the New Testament replacement for Old Testament circumcision, which he touched upon in the message.

Some say baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins, a ceremonial cleansing, which publicly identifies us with Jesus.

Other creeds say baptism by immersion portrays the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Can’t we embrace both perspectives?

People desiring baptism may come forward as the worship team leads the congregation in more songs. Even before hearing the full invitation, one person shows up and then another. A line forms.

For many churches, baptism is a somber affair, conducted with reserved formality. Not so for us. We treat it as a celebration with unabashed enthusiasm.

Our church leader prefers baptism by immersion, but the floor of this 150-year-old building lacks the structural integrity to support the weight of a baptismal pool.

Instead, we use a traditional baptismal font, with the goal to get as much water on the recipient as possible.

I talk with the second person in line, making sure she’s there for the right reasons. With much joy, she anticipates taking this step as part of her spiritual journey. I pray for her as we wait our turn.

The music is loud, and I’m not sure how many of my words she can hear, but God understands them all, and that’s what counts.

After the other elder douses the first person, a raucous celebration erupts from the crowd, applauding and cheering her public step of faith. We’re next.

We step up to the font, and I cup water in my hands. “I baptize you in the name of the Father . . .” releasing the water over her head and then returning for more. “And the Son . . .” I get more water. “And the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

As the throng shows their approval in unequivocal terms, I hand her a towel to dry off.

There’s not much room, so I try to usher her to the side and make room for the next baptism. But she won’t budge. Her adult daughter is next. We gather around as another elder conducts that baptism.

Afterward mother and daughter share a joyous hug, while friends hover nearby to share in the jubilation.

I return to the line of candidates, talking to the next person and baptizing her as well. We baptize a dozen or so this morning—and more will happen at the next service. What a glorious Easter and the perfect time to return home.

With the baptisms complete, I remain up front as the worship team continues. I sing along while I scan the crowd. Everyone is standing, and I don’t see an empty spot anywhere, including the balcony.

Even the back looks full. I wonder if some people stood the entire service, unable to find a place to sit. After a couple more songs, the worship leader concludes the service and the crowd slowly disperses.

I rejoin my family, wanting to focus on them instead of searching for visitors and friends. We eventually make our way out after ninety minutes. Some have already arrived for the next service, which starts in half an hour.

The End of a Pilgrimage

Today is an amazing reunion, a grand celebration, and a fitting conclusion to our yearlong pilgrimage.

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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