If there were ever a time to party, our church figures Easter is it. This holy day has become the pinnacle of our year, where we pull out all the stops and take the celebration to the streets. Best of all, the celebration includes donuts.
On Easter, life erupts as we shake off our grave clothes and revel in life made new. On Easter, the audacity of God’s stunning action in Jesus overwhelms us, and hope simply refuses to be held back. In Easter worship, we shout Alleluias. We sing louder than we do most every other time of the year. The preaching and the music and the people radiate exuberant energy. On Easter, life erupts everywhere.
As we live into the whole Christian story, we must endure, with Jesus, the agony of our sin and the countless ways we hurt ourselves and others (and the countless ways we have been hurt by others as well). However, the cross is not the main event; it is the prelude. Easter, the time when resurrection bursts open into the world, displays God’s full triumph. And when God triumphs, raucous joy always breaks loose.
Several years ago, that realization led our church to rethink how to observe the resurrection. While the weeks leading up to Easter call for repentance and, at times, somber reflection, Easter Sunday itself calls for a party. Jesus launched His public ministry at a wedding party in Cana, and He was always showing up at celebrations, feeding hungry throngs, and sharing festive moments with the weary and the worn. From the beginning, our church has desired to share in Jesus’ way of generosity and hospitality. Some people taste grace before they believe in grace. Jesus came to be a feast for the entire world, and we believe God wants our church to be a feast for our city.
The good news of Jesus’ resurrection could never be something we hold quietly to ourselves, huddled within our remote Christian enclave.
All this has led us to embrace the spiritual practice of party planning. At Easter, our party includes hiring our friend Matt, who is the owner of Carpe Donut (yup, seize the donut), to craft his artisan apple cider donuts for several hours right at the center of Easter Sunday. Matt parks his squatty red 1960s travel trailer (converted to a mobile kitchen) downtown at a major pedestrian intersection. We choose a prime location so we can catch the crowds strolling to brunch or making their way toward the green space at Lee Park, a grassy city block filled with people on warm spring days. Matt fires up his sizzling fryer, drops in the fresh dough, and cranks out massive piles of mouth-watering goodness. Last year, as we attempted to figure out how many we could feed, Matt told us, “I’ll just keep pumping out the donuts as fast as I can for two hours.”
Made from local organic eggs, flour, and cider, Matt’s donuts are legendary in Charlottesville. Whenever he parks his red trailer anywhere in town, a line quickly forms, sometimes snaking down the sidewalk. My favorite part of our Easter parties is watching people take their bags of hot donuts and pull out cash to pay—and then seeing their expression when Matt says, “Nope, today donuts are free.” The customers usually look bewildered and ask for clarification. They shake their heads in surprise, but as they walk away, we see lots and lots of smiles. When I asked one of my church friends what he enjoyed most about our Easter parties, he said, “The disbelief I see from people when they realize we’re giving them something without asking for anything in return.”
One year, we had live music from local musicians. Usually, we plan an egg hunt for the kids in the park, a well-organized event that inevitably turns into mass chaos with squealing kids racing across the grass, bulging baskets in tow. Every year, we have piping hot coffee from Shenandoah Joe, our fabulous local roaster; and recently we’ve added steaming organic cider to the mix. The scene is festive, joyful, free.
It’s not only that Easter prompts a party, but that Easter prompts a public party. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection could never be something we hold quietly to ourselves, huddled within our remote Christian enclave. When the first women at Jesus’ tomb recognized the remarkable fact that He had risen from the dead, they sprinted to the disciples, gushing over the shocking turn of events. They could not contain themselves. While sorrow and tears had filled the previous hours, elation now shattered the disciples’ sadness. The resurrection brings us unbridled joy. For our church, this is why we want to take Easter to the streets. We want to throw the invitation far and wide. We want to invite the entire city into our revelry.
For a couple of hours each Easter, we sit at our city center, meet new friends, and munch on more donuts than any healthy human should ever consume. We share conversation and laughter. Whenever someone asks us why we’re doing this, we simply say, Because Jesus rose from the dead. It’s time for a party.
At last year’s Easter bash, I had a conversation with a fellow I know from around town. He told me again about his woes with church, the many ways he has been disappointed and the many hypocrites he has encountered within various Christian communities. My friend listed multiple reasons why he’s abandoned church. Before he left, however (and between his first and second trip to the donut cart), he asked me to pray for him: “Pray for me, pastor. Pray that God would be with me.” I did—and I believe God will. This is why we celebrate. Because of the resurrection, God is alive. God, in Jesus, is always with us.