Holy Week marks the final days of Lent, crowned by Easter Sunday to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus from his tomb. Luke 24 attests that “he is not here; he has risen,” — a moment in time that stands as the bedrock of Christian theology.
Celebrating this central focus of the Christian faith, Easter rituals vary around the world. Some communities honor the culmination of the Passion of Jesus through reenactment, while others have adopted a more secular approach by incorporating bunnies and dyed eggs. Regardless of the diverse and ever-changing ritual practices, one thing is consistent: the church pews will be full on Easter Sunday.
No two Christian holidays draw bigger crowds than Christmas and Easter, garnering audiences so large that churches are hardly capable of accommodating their visit. While I can’t offer solutions for the logistical nightmare of huge crowds, I can help faith leaders realize the climate opportunity they present.
Easter Sunday is the Super Bowl of Christian services
Lifeway Church estimates that 130 million Americans (41 percent) plan on attending Easter Sunday Services, while Fortune Magazine found that 111 million people tuned in to watch the Patriots battle the Falcons during Super Bowl LI.
For faith leaders, holidays such as Easter present an amazing opportunity for growth and should be approached with as much precision as the marketers who shell out 5 million for 30 seconds of Super Bowl ad space. There really are few climate outreach opportunities greater than Easter Sunday, and here's why Jesus would agree with using it to advocate for the stewardship of creation.
Jesus encouraged his followers to go out and spread the gospel, but what exactly is the gospel? The gospel commonly refers to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which contain the life and message of Jesus. In these books, we find thought-provoking parables that Jesus offered to help guide the values of human existence. At moments, he approached issues with surgical precision to tackle very specific questions. Other times, he remained purposefully vague so as to allow broad applicability throughout time and setting.
Among the most popular was the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) in which Jesus expands the concept of a "neighbor" and the rights afforded to them as fellow human beings. Most notable of this didactic tale is that Jesus used a Samaritan (considered a lower social class) to make his point. In doing so, he introduced a revolutionary expansion of who his followers considered a neighbor.
The parable, at a basic level, expands our understanding of who Christians should help and who they are responsible for protecting. By using the most unlikely of communities in his parable, Jesus’ expansion of these parameters is boundless and perhaps one of the most important aspects of climate communicating on Easter.
We know that climate change is negatively impacting people around the world and the cause of those impacts is largely attributed to the burning of fossil fuels. So when a faith leader communicates on climate to advocate for a reduction of fossil fuel-based energy, he or she is caring for our neighbors in the fullest sense of the term.
For many, it may seem odd to speak about climate change on Easter when the focus has traditionally been on Jesus’ resurrection, and no one is suggesting that faith leaders stop doing so. Rather, tying the gospel of Jesus to our climate values during one of the largest annual gatherings of Christians will reinvigorate the message that has animated Christian social justice for thousands of years. Moreover, it may get some of those infrequent visitors to return more often.
On April 16th, your church will be full of people. Some will be familiar faces, while others will be attending one of their two annual visits. This is your opportunity to demonstrate how the gospel of Jesus is applicable in today's society and that our shared values compel us to protect our neighbors through climate solutions.
This is creation’s Super Bowl. Are you ready?
Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside.