To be honest with you I tried to talk myself out of writing anything at all about Easter.
A holiday carrying this much weight and significance for so many people in pastel sweater vests earnestly searching for plastic eggs in their grandparents’ backyard should probably not be handled by the guy whose writing mostly comes across about as well as conversations with that person at your office who pretends to be really into British comedy, in that anytime you mention how much you loved Parks & Rec., she stares at you blankly and then begins talking about Mr. Bean’s full filmography during an uninterrupted diatribe about how Americans don’t really “get” comedy.*
(*NOTE: Yes, in this one instance, it is okay to eat her well marked yogurt from the shared work fridge WITH IMPUNITY.)
In previous years I would have heeded my own advice, especially because I was employed by a religious institution desperate to get you to bring every stranger from your neighborhood (with whom you normally avoid making eye contact) to fill the sanctuary with freshly minted dockers from JC Penney. But this year, I didn’t even go to church on Easter, and before your judgmental thermometer starts boiling over I had the stomach flu, and I also want to remind you that I once endured a mock resurrection skit involving dry ice and a paper-maché tomb followed by an interpretive dance set to a Carmen song about witnessing to people on an airplane DURING THE SAME 1.5 HOUR EASTER SERVICE. So, if I’m taking the typical “loyalty punch-card” approach to church attendance most of us in the Southeast do, I think it’s safe to cash in my "free absence" considering that Easter service was worth about 5 punches alone.
Which brings me queasily back to the original point of all this, in that after years of faithful reflection and participation, I've found my experience with Easter to be little more than an absent-minded celebration of something from ancient past that no longer means anything to most of us (if you don’t believe me, please consider that the term Easter is now so bereft of meaning that the marquee at your local Sonic had the audacity to invite you to celebrate the death and resurrection of a 1st century political dissident with 2 for 1 Blasts).
"A good deal's a good deal, dude, GO BUCS!"
-Jesus of Tampa Bay (probably)
I know that might sound a bit harsh, but outside of giving us a reason to overspend on matching sweaters for our kids, plastic eggs made by underpaid and overstressed factory workers in China, and bunny-shaped chocolates whose cocoa beans were harvested by slaves, all before attending an overwrought religious service costing (in some communities) thousands of dollars in floral arrangements, extra musicians, and enticing raffle gifts for “first time attenders and guests” I can’t say I see the connection to the the brutal death (and miraculous resurrection) of a 1st century political and religious zealot who both advocated and predicted the destruction of every religious institution oppressing the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant on behalf of the wealthy and the well-connected.
To be more clear, Jesus was executed by a global superpower occupying his Middle Eastern homeland for stirring up the hopes and dreams of the poor and marginalized and here we are celebrating the discovery of his empty tomb by disciples (TWO WOMEN, thank you very much) who would later be executed themselves for following his beliefs to their natural conclusions with, again, PLASTIC EGGS, SCRIPTURE CITATIONS POSTED UNDER WELL DRESSED FAMILY PHOTOS ON FACEBOOK, AND SPIRAL SLICED HAM!
"A good ham's a good ham, dude (or so I'm told, I've never actually had ham because I'm Jewish)."
-Jesus of 1st Century Jewish decent (again, probably)
So as I languished on the couch yesterday while you, no doubt, mumbled your way through the doxology or some endlessly repetitive Hillsong United jam, I thought to myself: "what exactly is the point of all of this, again?"
And when I scrolled through your family photos of egg hunts, new shoes, and monogramed baskets, all underscored by a well-placed quote from the gospel o’ John, I thought to myself: "what exactly is the point of all of this, again?”
And when I finished the day by taking my son and my pug on a walk through our crusty neighborhood in matching sweatpants (it is Easter, I'm not a monster), I thought to myself: “what exactly was the point of all of this, again?”
But then my son noticed a tree, and another tree, and another tree, and another tree, and another tree, and another…you get the idea, but being 11.75 months old HE DID NOT. We stopped to touch the leaves, to shake the branches, to watch our dog defecate too closely to a neighbor’s mailbox, and to realize we had run out of poo-bags (sorry friend, and please watch your step!), and to feel the breeze on our faces, and to notice the blooms and the craggy roots gnarling the sidewalk upon which we unsteadily walked.
And I thought to myself: “oh yeah, this is what easter, or better yet since that word means almost nothing anymore, this is what resurrection is about.”
Resurrection is about seeing the world, one filled with moments of disappointment, despair, playground bombings in countries we don't care about, cynicism, hollow religiosity, and tacky sentimentality, as if for the very first time. And in so doing, finding it beautifully, tenuously, compellingly wondrous.
Resurrection is about giving life to someone who spends the rest of it giving life back to others you may never meet.
Resurrection is about sitting in your car long after you’ve arrived at your destination in order to let a song finish (you’ve heard probably well north of 400 times) because it’s still got something fresh to say to you.
Resurrection is about believing that dead things, and old things, and tired things, and parts of your life and job and relationships and neighborhood and faith that have died or outlived their usefulness or disappointed you again and again and again, can occasionally come back to life, albeit with a limp, in order to breathe something new into the world.
Resurrection is about foolishly getting up again and again, for no good reason except the stubborn belief that life may not be a tragic loop endlessly repeating itself with the same bad news, and that your very decision to get out of bed in the midst of this bad news is actually the good news the world's been waiting on.
Resurrection, mercifully, isn’t the announcement that the only way to experience a life worth living is, strangely, after everyone dies, but that real, actual, life in the present, kinds of life (for instance: the one you’re currently inhaling at this very moment) is where heaven and earth meet, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, as one particularly famous rabbi put it.
And finally (this time with the organ’s moan picking up steam in the background) Resurrection is about choosing to live in light of the truth that even if the world tries to kill your soul and your resolve and your hope and your ideas and your courage and (in the case of some dude named Jesus) your actual life, the one thing it can’t ever manage to put in the grave is self-sacrificing love.
"That stuff always gets up off the mat."
In my opinion, that’s something worth celebrating with trumpets turned to ELEVENS, but in order to clear away all the weeds and refuse and cellophane packaging currently cluttering the resurrection from view, perhaps we need to put a few of the ways we’ve grown accustomed to celebrating what many of us are quite comfortable referring to as the most transformative moment in human history, to death.
Maybe Easter needs to die, so that Easter can be reborn.
That way we might finally be greeted by the very same things the first followers of Jesus encountered when they happened upon that rolled away stone 2000 years ago: wonder and amazement. I mean, that sure beats whatever you call that feeling you get when you realize 3 other people in the sanctuary also smartly snatched up that same half-priced sundress you did at Ross last week, right?
"Now that's what I call a good deal!"
-Jesus of Housewares and Go-Backs
photo credit: Tommy Patto, creative commons