I’ve put off writing my Easter column as long as possible. It’s not that I don’t like Easter; on the contrary, it’s always been one of my favorite holidays. Aside from the celebratory atmosphere at church, it always has represented for me the dominance of spring over the desolate grip of winter.
I love watching children scramble excitedly for eggs, and the smell of tulips and lilies invigorates even the dustiest of souls.
So why the reluctance?
Short of a “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” approach to Scripture, Easter can be the most challenging phenomenon in one’s Christian faith. Anyone can relate to the birth of a child, and though the threat of death looms at Christmas with Herod’s order of mass male infant executions, little of this creeps into the birth narrative.
However, there is no getting to Easter Sunday without first going through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It would be pleasant enough to celebrate the empty tomb without focusing on Jesus’ betrayal, imprisonment, torture and crucifixion.
But that’s not really telling the whole story, is it?
I have seen church signs for weeks that say “The tomb is empty!” Well yeah, it’s empty because he didn’t die until the Friday before Easter. There are even churches that have an Easter celebration service on Saturday, which to me is a bit like throwing a party for someone a day before they get there. I know I’m showing my liturgical colors (pun intended), but if we’re not willing to suffer alongside Jesus, even just a little bit, what business do we have celebrating with him at resurrection?
This is not unlike the friends I had in college who drove en masse from Texas to New Orleans every year to participate in Mardi Gras. They would go crazy on Fat Tuesday and come back, adorned in beads and reeking of beer. But by Ash Wednesday they were back to their old routine. They just wanted to show up for the party and ignore the hard part.
Jumping to the party without doing the necessary preparations just doesn’t seem appropriate.
Then there’s the matter of resurrection. Growing up, I was presented with one of those challenging if/then statements that went something along the lines of, “if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, body and all, our faith is meaningless.”
This worked for me until I got into the typical questioning stage of my life, when I tried to reconcile my understanding of resurrection with the rest of what I knew, or thought I knew, about the universe.
Had I ever witnessed a resurrection? I’d seen trees hibernate and re-emerge right around Easter time. We even have adopted various pagan fertility symbols like eggs, bunnies (wicked procreators, those rabbits) and baby chicks. All of these suggest new life, but none is quite the same as resurrection.
Something from nothing, as in the case of a new birth, is something around which I can wrap my mind and heart. Why? Because I was there when my son was born.
I can understand awakening from the long slumber of winter, not only because I witness the verdant explosion around us every April, but because a strange malaise of my own always seems to lift this time of year.
But life from death? Come on: Who has a context in which that fits? It’s hard to explain other than by saying, “That’s what the Bible says and I believe it.” So if we can’t really even explain resurrection, what does our celebration represent?
It represents a faith whose cornerstone is hope.
It represents an existence in which death is not the period at the end of the sentence.
And for me, it represents a mystery that doesn’t have to be solved; one that can live amid the awe and wonder that helps me remember I don’t have it all figured out.
Living with mystery as part of your faith isn’t a sign of failure. Actually, it’s a pretty good reason to celebrate.