For the devout, Easter is ‘foundation of our faith’

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Through trials, tribulations, major life changes, and years away from her hometown, Pat Jones anticipates Easter.

Anita Glasker, 64, of Plymouth shows her approval during the praise and singing portion of the Good Friday service at Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield.

“It’s everything. It’s one of my favorite times,” said the Detroit resident, who plans to sing this weekend with the choir at Gesu Catholic Church. “It’s a joy. It’s meaningful. This is the most important time of the year for my faith, my life, my journey.”

Each spring, Christians relive the basis of their beliefs: Jesus Christ’s death on a cross, centuries ago, to connect mankind with its creator.

The popular holiday revolves around sacrifice, devotion and transformation — themes guiding annual traditions for thousands in southeast Michigan. Yet between swarming churches for emotional services, feasting with family, or finding creative ways to embrace the most vulnerable in the community, worshipers cling to an age-old example they believe offers peace and solace in an increasingly volatile world.

“Without Easter, we have no hope,” said the Rev. Kenneth Flowers, who soon marks 23 years leading Detroit’s Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church. “The whole foundation of our faith is the resurrection. If Jesus died and stayed dead, we would be dead, as well, in our sin. Because he lives, we live as well. The resurrection lives in us — in our hearts, our spirits, our daily actions.”

Devotees around the region heed that call throughout Holy Week, which runs through Sunday and commemorates Christ’s final days.

At Immanuel Lutheran Church & School in Macomb Township, it informs a new campaign they christen “Reckless Love.” All Easter offerings are slated to be donated to community charities or programs, including KnowResolve, a group tackling youth suicide prevention/awareness, and Abigayle Ministries, which assists pregnant women.

“We just want to go out there and love people in ways no one could imagine or ways that are unconventional,” said Greg Griffith, the lead pastor. “The Easter story tells us to go out and love — not with an agenda or a purpose but because of the love we’ve experienced from Jesus.”

The idea so moved Kim Hawkins, who joined the church after moving to the township about a decade ago, she planted a bright sign about it on her lawn.

She’s overjoyed to give while attending Sunday services with her husband and sons, dressed in finery. Later, the family plans to dine at a Harrison Township restaurant — joining the 81 percent of Americans celebrating and consumers spending $5.7 billion on food around Easter, a National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics survey found.

They also plan a homemade meal complete with ham, macaroni and cheese, green beans and rolls — a nod to years past, when Hawkins’ mother hosted. Through it all, the holiday’s importance remains intact: chiefly that Christ “took those beatings. He was nailed to the cross for all of us,” Hawkins said. “Every day is the Lord’s day, but especially that day.”

To the hundreds expected to pack the Motor City’s St. Stephen AME Church for an uplifting sermon amid Easter lilies, the all-important date offers a “message of empowerment,” said Rev. Darryl Williams, its new leader. “It’s not just an historical event — it’s a living experience. As we look at things in the world and watch the news, we have every reason to not be hopeful. The resurrection story gives us that hope that ultimately light triumphs over darkness, good triumphs over evil, and life triumphs over death.”

That looms large for attendee Patricia Marshall. In recent years the Detroiter has lost her mother and daughter, who also attended. Recalling three words central to the season — “He is risen” — spurs her to don pink outfit and join a sunrise service Sunday. “The resurrection lets us know that life begins in the hereafter, when our earthly assignment ends,” she said. “If you believe in the resurrection, then you know life goes on.”

Between Bible studies and watching the newly released film “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” the notion heartens Debbie Watson, who attends Southfield’s Hope United Methodist Church. “Ultimately everyone, regardless of their religion, is looking for that greater purpose,” the project manager, beauty consultant and entrepreneur said. “With that belief, it changes people’s behaviors. It allows for a shift.”

Monica Moore pondered that often throughout Lent, the period since Ash Wednesday devoted to praying, fasting and giving. Nighttime feedings with her newborn daughter allowed the Detroiter to renew an annual prayer: “That God breaks through to us in a new way so that our hearts will be opened,” she said. “If we are truly being true to what the Lord said and did, then we can change the world. Because the followers of Jesus did.”

Dozens who braved the rain to attend a Maundy Thursday service at Flowers’ church took that to heart. Men and women in suits, robes and skirts swayed and lifted their hands near a flower-festooned stage, voices raised to sing hymns about deliverance through their savior.

Later, as the sanctuary lights were dimmed and candles lit before communion, Sheridan Norfolk shut her eyes to recall how, eons earlier, Christ was betrayed and led to crucifixion. The act capped weeks of fasting the 27-year-old Detroiter called “a cleansing. It shows you what sacrifice really means. Whatever you’re sacrificing, you replace with prayer.”

For others, tradition melds with modernity. Noting Easter falls on April Fool’s Day, members from Ward Church in Northville recently posted billboards near Interstate 275 and M-14 jokingly asking passersby to “skip” the religious holiday and visit a website. The page reveals details about the church’s weekend services, which revolve around a “Curious Story of Perception”— specifically, scriptures recounting disciples failing to recognize a risen Jesus on the road.

The efforts mirror a push to reach the public unconventionally while presenting a message that is “more important now than it’s ever been,” senior pastor Scott McKee said. “We know the culture is moving further away from the church, certainly from organized religion. I hope they discover what the travelers discovered: that God was with them the entire time and they didn’t know it.”

The magnitude amazes longtime Christians such as Eric McCowan, 31, of Livonia, who relishes worshiping with his wife, young daughters and in-laws.

“It just heightens your faith,” he said. “This is essentially the biggest week in Christianity.”