Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to life, and only a few find it
Easter services are when almost all churches can expect to have their highest attendance for the year (even higher than Christmas!). Sometimes the surge in numbers corresponds to the worthy efforts on the part of church members to invite their friends and neighbors to a special service. At other times, we can attribute the increase of unfamiliar faces to the attempt on the part of casual church attendees to fulfill their religious duty for the year (maybe to satisfy Mom or Dad or the grandparents). Whatever the reasons for more crowded pews, we know Easter is the kind of occasion we’re all attracted to.
The atmosphere is joyous and celebratory— “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!” The music is glorious and uplifting— “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow!” The food is delicious and abundant! And, perhaps best of all, the expectations are usual minimal— “Go, celebrate the new life available to you because He lives…and we’ll see you again next year!” Who wouldn’t want to show up on Easter Sunday?
Now consider how starkly different attendance can be at other Holy Week services, such as Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. To be sure, this often reflects a lack of experience with such services, especially in the Baptist tradition. But it also reveals our human preference for triumphant celebration over solemn and sacrificial reverence.
Maundy Thursday summons us to gather around the Lord’s Table and remember his “command” (Latin: mandatum) to love one another as he first loved us (John 13:34-35). Likewise, Good Friday engenders godly sorrow as we acknowledge our sins sent Jesus to the cross (“the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” Isaiah 53:5). We’re all far less inclined to willingly subject ourselves to occasions calling for such strenuous expectations. Yet the paradox is that the more we internalize the gravity of the cross—with all of its pain, sorrow, and seeming hopelessness—the more heartfelt our Easter celebration can become.
Such costly worship leads us down what Jesus called “the narrow road that leads to life.” Few will find it. Most will remain satisfied with worship that makes no demands on their life. Which road will you choose? As we prepare for Holy Week, I pray we would all willingly and unashamedly venture out on the narrow road that leads to life, no matter the cost.