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On Easter Sunday, at New York’s one-hundred-and-one-year-old Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, a combination of readings from Scripture, lively preaching, and beautiful choir music filled the historic structure. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, explored traditional Easter themes in his sermon, “Alive, But Not Done,” and gave the feast’s timeless story a fresh take as he revisited at a classic Easter metaphor from different perspectives.

The metaphor of the sermon became apparent early in the service, when Dr. Anderson invited the children in the congregation to join him in front of the altar. He showed the group an egg and asked, “How do you know it’s an Easter egg?” “Because it’s Easter,” one boy deadpanned, to laughs from the pews. Dr. Anderson then explained that the egg represented the tomb from which Jesus rose—a tomb that, like this Easter egg, was empty. The warm interaction between pastor and children felt completely natural, and as the kids returned to their parents, the church’s mood seemed to rise, almost taking on an exuberant, proud glow.

In his formal sermon Dr. Anderson amplified the metaphor of the egg. As he started, he seemed to rouse the audience, delivering always with rhetorical skill but also with the casual touch of a natural performer. He discussed the egg in the context of the traditional Jewish Passover seder, at which the egg symbolizes the sacredness of the lost Temple. He then spoke of the beauty of Russian and Ukrainian Easter egg designs. Finally, he personalized the metaphor of the egg—and the idea of rebirth—with a story from his childhood. He took the congregation back his aunt and uncle’s farm. He described his uncle coming inside the house with eggs to put in an incubator. He said he watched, through his child’s eyes, as the eggs hatched, and the wet little chicks entered the world. Anderson spoke with intense focus. There was a touch of irony in his voice, but it was an irony directed at congregants who presumably knew the Easter story well but had come out on a bright spring morning to hear it yet again. Keeping to his metaphor, he spoke of the chicks in terms of Jesus, who became man and died for the world’s sins so that redeemed humanity could go forth and continue to “peck away” at sin.

Throughout his sermon, Dr. Anderson gave highest priority to theology and history. The choice of theology over fire or vituperation at other churches seemed in keeping with the pastor’s delivery style. At all times he seemed focused on speaking not as someone coming down from above, but as a serious, intentful, and imperfect person on the same human plane as his worshippers. His democratic and concise explanations of how Jesus’ death has affected—and continues to affect—all people’s lives seemed to reflect that. He also spoke briefly of what it’s like to read the newspaper and took issue with suicide bombings and terrorism, condemning them as demonic.

Dr. Anderson’s sermon was followed by celebratory music performed by an excellent and well-rehearsed ensemble. A combination of trumpets, bells, organ, and choral voices gave stirring life to selections that ranged from Beethoven to a Vaughan Williams setting of words by Welsh poet-priest George Herbert. Near the service’s close, Dr. Anderson seemed to step aside and let music take over. Stepping back, the mood at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church on Easter morning was that of a vibrant Christian community gathered together, awestruck in joy, reaffirmed in its faith.

City: New York
Borough: Manhattan
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
Address: 921 Madison Avenue
Phone: 212- 288-8920
Religion: Christian
Denomination: Presbyterian
Main Service: Sunday, 11:15 a.m.
Pastor/Chief Liturgist: the Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, D. Min.

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