Saddleback Church leaders and founder Pastor Rick Warren in Southern California hopes to reach 50,000 people through a massive multi-campus Easter celebration this weekend to accentuate the mercy of God.
Easter week gets particularly personal and poignant to Warren because three years ago, his 27-year-old son, Matthew, ended his own life five days post-Easter after battling long-term depression and mental illness. "He lost his battle for hope," said the devastated faith leader.
"Do you ever find yourself discouraged, or depressed, or defeated or maybe even devastated by the circumstances in your life? If so, let me encourage you about the pathway, the hope, the change, and the transformation that I've found in the Easter story of the Resurrection of Jesus," said the pastor who also authored "The Purpose Driven Life" books.
Warren will deliver the Easter sermons for all 57 services offered at 16 campuses, including 10 locations in Southern California, as well as international gatherings in Berlin, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires and South Manila. Those who cannot physically attend one of the Saddleback Easter services can view them through the online campus.
The evangelical preacher is expected to launch his new "Miracle of Mercy" series this Easter, an innovative sermon series that he said may be the "most important, life-changing series he's ever taught."
The first service in the series of 57 took place at the church's main campus in Lake Forest on Thursday; Warren's sermon will be broadcasted to all other locations throughout the weekend.
One of the services on Sunday at the Lake Forest location will include a gathering outside so congregants may watch the sunrise outdoors on Easter morning.
At the church's Rancho Capistrano location, congregants can attend a free, 30-minute "Journey with Jesus" guided tour this Saturday, where they may view Christ's death and resurrection through a series of art installations, beginning with His anointing and ending with resurrection.
Attendees will be invited to give their lives to Jesus during the service, and baptisms will be held immediately after, reports the Christian Post.
The Saddleback worship band recently released a new EP titled "First," the music from which will be performed live by each campuses' own worship band over the weekend.
"God's No. 1 characteristic throughout the Bible is mercy. His mercy heals broken hearts, reconciles relationships, restores forgotten dreams and refreshes tired souls. It's the cure to every insecurity, worry, and fear," Saddleback's website states.
Saddleback, one of the largest evangelical churches in the United States, is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. About 20,000 people attend weekly services at the church's multi-campuses.