I listened to John Ortberg this morning while I was walking Hazard around the pond. Ortberg has a great sense of humor. During his Easter message he said; “2000 years after Rome crucified Jesus, Christian, which is a name that means “Little Christs” number in the billions while “Little Caesars” the name of a Pizza franchise.”
The Easter Lily Tradition
by Ken Pierpont
To preside over the celebration of Easter is one of the great unforgettable privileges of being a pastor. Yesterday I returned to my study after the last car left the lot and wrote these words: “When I am an old man I will remember preaching the gospel at church today and a smile will brush my heart.” Yesterday as I brought the Easter message to a close I told the people this story mined from the treasure of my past:
Easter was approaching in 1997. It would be my first Easter at First Baptist Church in Fremont. Fremont was famous as the home of Gerber Baby Food. It was also a fine place to raise a family—a quiet small town. In Fremont we occupied a beautiful, spacious parsonage in a pleasant neighborhood just blocks from the church—all ten of us. Hope America was born in Fremont. We called the parsonage there the Pine Street Parsonage and it is the only house where all ten of us ever lived together all in one place. We cherish our memories of Fremont, the Pine Street Parsonage, First Baptist and its people.
At Fremont they had a beautiful tradition. On Easter the steps that stretched all across the front of the platform were filled with Easter lilies. They were beautiful. Each lily was purchased and donated by a member of the church in memory of a loved one.
Verna Purcey came to town on Fridays. Her husband Clair was a retired pastor and a delightful godly man. After I left Fremont Verna asked me to return to preach his funeral. Verna would have her hair done and then come by the church to practice the organ for Sunday. Verna knew all the songs that were popular in the Evangelical world of Grand Rapids, Michigan when I was growing up. The church had a grand organ. The speakers rested just over my study. I always considered those Friday morning organ concerts a wonderful fringe benefit of my calling. The week before Easter the church was always alive with activity.
During Holy Week the flowers would arrive and Erma Murphy, the long-time church secretary, would come into my study and sit down with a stack of cards. On each card was the name of a departed loved one. As Erma went through the cards one at a time she would tell me the stories of each person. We talked about the people and she shared her memories with me. Then she would type up the list for me and she would attach each card to a lily.
During the Easter Sunday Celebration I would take the list in hand and slowly read aloud the names of people who had once been a part of the church—now with the Resurrected Christ-very much alive. I would boldly affirm the resurrection of Christ—the first-friuts—the first of millions who would arise, including all those who names were read. And the people would weep. And from the powerful speakers that set over my study and the great antiphonal speaker in the back of the auditorium the Easter anthem would ring out and the people would affirm their faith in joyful song.
And then, my heart beating fast with the joy and pageantry of it all, I would shake hands with the people and they would make their way to Easter dinner.
This year I’m sure someone in Fremont read the names of Clair and Verna Purcey—now in the presence of the Living Christ.
Praise be to God—Christ is Risen!
Pastor Ken Pierpont
April 5, 2015