Easter time is a hard time to get excited about.
Besides the fact that it is loosely connected to spring break, you just don’t see much hoopla about it. As we head into the dry days of spring, there aren’t any decent holidays until summer, unless you’re on the edge of your seat for President’s Day or Memorial Day. Easter doesn’t even provide a day off work, and feels more like Mother’s Day, doesn’t it? Secretly, everyone is really waiting for the Fourth of July and the start of summer.
It doesn’t help that its name is mysterious, and its mascot a chocolate-bearing rabbit. The name Easter comes from an ancient fertility goddess, Eastre. Fortunately, the kids don’t ask for an explanation of the connection between her and the rabbit, and I’ve never heard anyone ask for a justification for the chocolate. Even Easter’s subtle sexual subtext and many a chocolate animal can’t seem to bring much excitement to the holiday. It pales next to Halloween; the candy isn’t as good, and the rabbit is too tame to inspire wild parties.
The energy–or lack of it–surrounding a holiday or an event is something that interests me. I like to study the stream of emotion passing through whatever social situation I’m in; I want to be aware of what the people around me are feeling. I think that the collective mood of a group of friends or a community is a fascinating and important phenomenon. When several people are thinking the same way, then it becomes more important, more relevant, than when just one person has an interesting thought.
For instance, I think that there is a tangible feeling of optimism in the air on a Christmas morning. I think that our communities by-and-large are giddy, if not drunk, with excitement. I don’t believe that it is wishful thinking or personal optimism. When I step outside on Christmas morning to walk my dog, I believe I breathe in a communal sense of well-being.
Opening presents, children laughing, and families celebrating are events that most everyone share on Christmas morning. And the neighborhood at large grabs on to the hope of better times ahead. Some connect to Jesus directly, while others more tangentially.
It is not the same on Easter. For one thing, there is a disconnect between the rabbit and what is going on in the churches on Easter Sunday. Non-believers do not make the connection. They do not see God in Easter. They do not come to the cross. They stand back.
Both events, Christmas and Easter, benefit the world. God came to earth to save man at Christmas and on Good Friday. The Friday before Easter, he died for the sins of the world, and on that following glorious Sunday he rose, victorious, and humanity was no longer doomed by their sins.
I’m not sure why non-believers stand back. Perhaps it is as simple as being ashamed of the cross. When I really think about what happened at the cross, I feel two opposing and very dramatic emotions. I can barely keep my eyes dry because I cannot avoid the horror that the most righteous man that ever lived had to experience. He had to be tortured and killed for my sake. I did it. He had to go to the cross or I could not be saved. I did it to him, and he did it for me. The thought of that fact, that unavoidable truth, shames me to the point of tears whenever I think about it.
Shoulder to shoulder with this heavy crushing weight is the fact that Jesus pulled it off. He was able to shock heaven and hell, to say nothing of the earthly witnesses. With a mind-blowing victory, beyond anything we could have imagined, he rose from the dead. What else could a man do that could really make the heavens stop and stare? No one could have done it; no one thought it could be done. It is no disrespect in my mind to consider Jesus the all-time superstar, hero, rock star, you name it. Compared to him, no one has really accomplished anything. Compared to his, all other victories are babies taking their first steps.
If you love the one-handed catch in the end-zone, if you love the stories of war and courage and victory, if you love the poetic tales of the gods, if you love a performance that takes your breath away, then you will love the story of Easter. Christ is the performer, the actor, the accomplisher of all time. He is the physical personification of victory.
All across the world, Christian brothers and sisters will be remembering this event. Some will walk in parades holding candles or incense or signs. Some will make pilgrimages. Many will be singing, hands raised. Prayers by the billions will be going up, thanking God and remembering that victory.
We should remember that the tradition of celebrating the Easter weekend is not a relic of mindless imitation, a repetition of some cultural custom that we can no longer trace the origin of (like that rabbit, by the way). We know why we do it.
So Easter weekend brings these two super dramatic emotions out of me–exceeding shame and exceeding joy. And in the end, the joy props me up and I feel confident. I know I’m forgiven. The power of the victory has crushed the heavy block of shame, and I can be confident again.
Unfortunately, not all Christians get to take the time to ponder and celebrate the event. Sometimes I get distracted by that rabbit and his chocolate. But if I’m focused, I will be sure to go to church and dive into the reality of the events that Easter really stands for. And when I walk out of the service with everyone else, that vibe, that communal sense, will begin surging through the streets where I live. As Christians we can infuse our communities with that sense of victory if we ourselves have grabbed hold of it. I think it will spill out through our smiles, our handshakes, our “Happy Easter!” wishes. We can give more of this Christian contentment to our neighbors at Easter than at any other time of the year. We owe it to Christ to acknowledge his victory and to show the world that we find joy in it.