Ah, Easter. The time of the year when we celebrate new life with fuzzy chicks, colorful eggs, chocolate rabbits and try to pretend it all has something to do with church. I mean, the chocolate totally makes sense. Eating chocolate is almost a transcendent experience after all. But the rest of it? I'm not so sure.
Easter is also the time of the year when church delves deeply into the art of denial. We celebrate that death is no more never mind the funeral we attended last week. We celebrate new life as though a goodly number of those fluffy little chicks won’t kick the proverbial bucket within a few days of life. (I love to throw a little farming reality into my theology. Sheep aren’t really very soft but actually kind of greasy and fuzzy chicks are ridiculously fragile little balls of fluff with poop on their feet. Happy Easter.) I understand trusting in the promises of God but it often all ends up looking more like pretending a certainty we don't really have and ignoring reality.
I know I sound cynical and bitter but there are seasons in our life when Easter is excruciating. When tragedy strikes, a loved one dies, or depression descends, Easter can be unbearable. It is painful to sit amongst the celebration when your heart is breaking. It seems false to celebrate life when death is a monstrous reality in your world. Having experienced such an Easter, I will not forget. To do so would be nothing more than denial. Nothing has changed only the passage of time. The reality is for those experiencing grief, death has not lost its sting. Although sting is way too wimpy a word. In the midst of tragedy, death often comes less like a sting and more like a leave you flat on the floor slap across the face.
We celebrate Easter as the defining moment of the church. Surely if you don’t believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus you can not possibly call yourself a Christian. Yet is the definition of Christianity really hung up on the particular molecules making up the body of the resurrected Jesus? Scripture tells us those who saw Jesus after Easter often had difficulty recognizing him. Some attribute this to a transformation of the body which takes place in the resurrection. How different is that really than believing in a spiritual resurrection rather than a physical one? Do we really need to use Easter as an opportunity to draw a line in the sand?
So, if Easter isn’t about chicks and bunnies, nor denial, nor triumph over death, nor defining the church, then what is it about? It’s about no matter how deep the darkness, always there is hope. It’s about the reality of death alongside the whisper of life yet to come. It is not about denying reality but rather about facing reality while ordering one’s life according to a suspicion of hopefulness.
I appreciate musically the majestic strains which often accompany Easter morning. However, I will be quietly humming a tune which better fits the subtle stirrings of hope within my soul:
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been;
Love is come again like what arising green.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Your touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.
(Now the Green Blade Rises by John M. C. Crum, 1872-1958 verses 1&4 as printed in Lutheran Book of Worship)
Within the death and sorrow of this world, hope and life stretch toward the surface. As we grieve, the spirit of Jesus touches us calling us not to false cheerfulness, not to get over it, but rather to go on living and doing what we can to grow love in this world.
I understand for some Easter is a time to shout alleluias to the heavens. Yet for some amidst tragedy Easter is a whispered alleluia, a gasp of hope. For the latter, my heart and my thoughts are with you.