Easter has, for millennia, been the central, defining commemoration of Christianity. Christmas has become more of a secular celebration, while Easter, to a larger degree, has kept (besides the Easter eggs and bunny) its religious roots. But even with that, Easter has always puzzled me.
What, exactly, are we celebrating? Yes, I know the “He has risen, He has risen, indeed” call and response, but what–after the holiday passes and we move along from the pastels and chocolate–are we to make of, or incorporate into our lives from, the eternal Easter story? What, especially in these fraught times, when so little means what it used to, are we to make of Easter?
As I write this, in spring of 2021, one of the most absurd terms to ever resonate throughout popular culture seems to reign supreme – “cancel culture”.
Those who have embraced and embodied it the most, for decades, if not centuries, now suddenly describe it as a liberal blight upon the world. And yes, it has always been so. And that, perhaps, is the message of Easter; Truth, God, life and faith will not be “cancelled”. In one of the ironies of history, at the first Easter, two competing religious philosophies, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the crowds in the streets, and even the occupying secular Roman government, on one issue at least, agreed on one thing; Jesus had to be eliminated.
Many years ago, a common topic of discussion among people of faith was “wouldn’t it be amazing to be one of Jesus’ disciples?” I think that topic disappeared because, like the WWJD phase, too many people of faith realized that the “cost” of discipleship was far too high. A bland, not-challenging, non-transformative “Christianity”, luke-warm and “safe”, something that didn’t upset the relatives or offend the neighbors was far more preferable. I call it “something” because it is certainly not faith, not belief, and certainly not Christianity.
For those that imagined themselves as one of the followers of Jesus through those dusty streets, the choices became all too clear; would we be of one of the two religious camps that saw Jesus as a threat, or members of the crowd that shouted “Crucify him!” or “We have no king but Caesar!” or would we even be the grim secular forces that authorized and carried out just another in a long series of public executions?
Or perhaps worst of all, would we be one of the disciples that deserted and denied, hiding until it was all over, cowering in silence in locked rooms? None of our options are good. But I think they are still true and active. Religious people still do their best to “cancel” anything that might threaten the established formulas and routines of faith. Secular forces, as always, primarily want to maintain order.
They still scatter and deny, justify and evade any association with anything other than a comfortable – and comforting – beliefism.
When was the last time, for example, that you met someone who took seriously the Great Commission – to gather and nurture disciples – not believers? All the programs, videos, or church discussion groups or Bible studies in the world will create nothing more than “believers” who “ agree” or “believe” certain statements of faith. In other words, the “deep-state” (to use another inane cliché of the 2020s) reproduces itself.
Is the world a better place, is the world transformed or turned upside down by such a faith? In a word, no. Does such a faith even matter – to anyone? Where is the faith that does matter? The faith that does turn the word upside down? Jesus himself, asked if he would find faith on his return. Like him, I don’t think he will.
I think he will see what he saw then, and what we see now: religious flavored jargon covering cowardice and compromise.
Perhaps the lesson of Easter still stands: no stone, no guards, no jeering crowds, no pious bureaucracy, no political compromise will ever hold back, or even begin to contain the living Truth.
And in those so rare moments, almost always far from the press, the pulpit, politics, and public opinion, when we realize that it is resurrection, not death, that terrifies us. It is life and truth, at its most pungent, that threatens us – and always has. And it is life that we are called to. We are called, invited, even compelled to embrace and embody life beyond the hollow threat of death.
It’s significant that Jesus rises, lingers for a few days and then is not seen again. It’s as if he had nothing more that needed to be said; that he was handing the message off to us. It’s a message we, like the first disciples, often misunderstand and, even sometimes like the Pharisees, work to bend to our own will. But the message could not be simpler.
He has risen. He has risen, indeed.