On Easter Sunday, at New Yorks 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 churchs pastor, the Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, explored traditional Easter themes in his sermon, Alive, But Not Done, and gave the feasts 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 its an Easter egg? Because its Easter, one boy deadpanned, to laughs from the pews. Dr. Anderson then explained that the egg represented the tomb from which Jesus rosea 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 churchs 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 eggand the idea of rebirthwith a story from his childhood. He took the congregation back his aunt and uncles farm. He described his uncle coming inside the house with eggs to put in an incubator. He said he watched, through his childs 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 worlds 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 pastors 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 affectedand continues to affectall peoples lives seemed to reflect that. He also spoke briefly of what its like to read the newspaper and took issue with suicide bombings and terrorism, condemning them as demonic.
Dr. Andersons 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 services 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
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
Address: 921 Madison Avenue
Phone: 212- 288-8920
Main Service: Sunday, 11:15 a.m.
Pastor/Chief Liturgist: the Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, D. Min.