Many Christians are preparing for Easter, which is coming up in just a few days on March 31st. It’s one of the few things that Christians churches agree on and celebrate in common, and on Easter Sunday every church in this valley will be celebrating the good news of new life.
But as universally true as that might sound not all Christian churches will be celebrating on the 31st. Orthodox Christians, the second largest Christian denominational group after Roman Catholics, won’t be celebrating Easter until May 5th. Orthodox Christians follow a different calendar from Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians, which means often times we celebrate Easter (and Christmas) on other days.
So, who’s right? I mean, there can’t really be two Easter’s right? Doesn’t someone have to be wrong?
When I was growing up in the South, I often heard people who attended certain Christian churches in town tell me that Catholics “weren’t really Christians”. That always struck me as odd. My own immediate family wasn’t Catholic, but most of my extended family was, and I knew them to be good Christian people.
Later on I heard others say the same thing about my own religious tradition for a variety of reasons. Some were old arguments like the fact we baptize babies instead of adults. Others were newer, like the fact we allow women to preach and gays and lesbians to marry. And because of that, despite the fact I’ve given my life to serving Christ, I’ve been told repeatedly I’m not a “real Christian”.
And this is what I’ve learned along the way: “real Christians” don’t all look, think, talk, or worship the same way. And if anyone tells me they have the market on Christian truth cornered, that’s enough to make me wary. The truth of the matter is that good Christians disagree on any number of thing, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t Christians.
Nearly 400 years ago, the people who would later form my own Congregational tradition landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims were escaping a place that told them that there was only one way to be Christian. But the church they started here in New England at first repeated the mistakes of those who had forced them out of England. They persecuted other Christians who didn’t agree with their own version of Christianity, and they said they weren’t “real Christians”.
We now understand that they were very wrong. That’s one reason why the church that is now descended from them, the United Church of Christ, is wary about judging the validity of the Christian faith of others. We understand that with each new generation there are new challenges, and new understandings of what it means to be Christian. We are open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and to the presence of Christ in other churches.
For that reason, I’ve found Christ while attending Mass at the Catholic parish in Brattleboro. I’ve seen him while worshipping at Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. I’ve felt him while visiting Orthodox cathedrals. And I’ve known he was close while worshipping at my own UCC parish. I’ve found that if you open your heart up to Christ’s love, you can find him all over the place.
Come March 31st, like churches in many places, my church will celebrate the holiest day of our year. But I’ll keep in mind those other Christians who are still waiting for their Easter. And I’ll also keep in mind those Christians whose understandings of what it means to be faithful are so different from my own.
My only hope is that they might do the same for me, and for other Christians whose faith might look different than their own. I’ve always believed that a desire to see Christ in others is a true mark of a Christian. Perhaps the same is true for seeing Christ in the churches of others as well.