My column in today’s Greenville News. Happy Easter friends!
He is Risen Indeed!
Everything is bursting into bloom and the days are warmer all the time. Although I prefer winter, I recognize the gifts of Spring; green hay fields and newly planted gardens; long, warm days filled with the promise of summer break and cool swimming-pools. There is even great beauty in families on Easter Sunday, all awash in bright pastels, father dressed up and proud, mother hovering in dress and hat, children clean until they find the candy, the dog or both. What a wonderful time it is!
Yes, it’s a bit cliche and it’s a little old-fashioned; not necessarily bad things really. Still, there are those who even say the whole Easter thing is a bit of a joke if not a hoax. That all we Christians do at Easter is revisit old pagan fertility rites and slap on new names (well, new for about 2000 years).
Maybe there’s some truth there. Our churches have Easter egg hunts, after all. We give our kids stuffed rabbits, known for their reproductive prowess. Stores even sell flowery crosses made of chocolate. Innocuous enough, but I fear that in our safe, easy celebrations we have lost all sense of what the cross was in its common ancient usage. A candy cross probably would have horrified all but the most jaded Roman citizen who had witnessed its use as a form of execution.
On the other hand, maybe the irony is just part of the message. God winking at us as he tells a cosmic joke. Easter is about the power to take a thing from very bad to very beautiful; from hopeless to hopeful, from dead to alive, and theologically, from sinner to redeemed!
After all, behind bunnies and delicately dyed eggs, candy and ham dinners, flowers and sunshine, there remains the gasping, bloody, brutalized body of the Son of God, the healer, the miracle bringer, the lover of the despised. Behind beautiful dresses and baskets filled with fake grass is Jesus, hanging on crude wood, affixed with iron spikes and rope, taunted to the end, stabbed in the side as the sky filled with angry clouds and the ground shook enough to shake a disciplined, armed Centurion. Behind all the joy and sweetness lies the stone over the tomb where Jesus’ dead form lay. Beneath the bright colors of Easter, making it possible, is the gray, black grief of all who loved him, followed him and hoped in him.
But Easter morning turned misery inside-out. It turned tragedy into an inconceivable miracle on the morning when the tomb was empty and Jesus’ clothes were found lying on the stone where life himself had lain lifeless. Then out from the tomb he came. ‘Up from the grave he arose,’ as the hymn says. From the tomb exploded hope. From his death issued life; from the grave burst the power to transform bitter hatred into immense love. And the message that what seems beyond repair, lost forever, is neither. This is a message the world needs now more than ever.
The perspective of history is a relevant reminder as we seem to believe, somehow, that injustice, cruelty, tyranny, poverty and suffering are things we have only just discovered and that their resolution seems hopeless. Hardly. He confronted them all those centuries ago; with his blood.
Indeed, from Jesus’ passion came the ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control’ (and yes, tolerance) that made so much we take for granted possible. We dismiss it all as so much of a fairy tale. Then we try every generation to recreate what he did with arguments, policies and laws.
Yet nothing compares to the transforming power of Easter, an explosion of wonder and laughter painted in breathtaking, shocking contrast on a canvas of pain and fear.
Easter is a brightly colored celebration of God’s power over sin and death. It allows us to celebrate new life with color and flowers, with candy and all the trappings of childish pleasures; even those rooted in pagan times, for it seems to me those things were resurrected for his use too.
Easter is no longer a fertility party, but a time when joy finally makes sense, because the cross and the tomb could not hold the lover of our souls. And thanks to that, death, sin and fear cannot enslave us either.
The cruel cross and rolled stone makes every Easter egg brighter and every chocolate bunny sweeter indeed. A beautiful holy joke if ever there was one.