As secularized religious holidays go, Easter really doesn’t measure up to the standard set by Christmas. Christmas gets our whole western culture looking at religious themes. If we aren’t seeing manger scenes everywhere, we are hearing about court battles to prevent or allow them. We even get treated to religiously themes songs in various media outlets.
But Easter, well, Easter is a different kind of holiday. Then whole season deals with stuff that most of our culture–well, most of most cultures–find unpleasant. Easter puts the focus on things like political and religious corruption. It deals with false arrest and torture. It tells the story of a good man being legally, physically and emotionally brutalized for political reasons. And then to make matters worse, the man dies. We could probably deal with the story as a culture if Jesus suddenly turns on his captors and using some swift and skillful Ninja moves, puts his captors in their place.
But Jesus isn’t some movie hero. He feels the weight of authority and that authority wins–Jesus dies after a painful and sadistic process designed to not only kill the victim but also demoralize anyone nearby. Crucifixion was Rome’s way of telling everyone that they had better watch their step or else–and the “or else” was regularly exercised along the public highways.
Compared to a baby being born in a stable with angels and cuddly lambs, this story really doesn’t cut it for our society. That is probably why our culture has tended to ignore the basic Easter story in favour of bunnies, chicks and a ton of candy. Those sell better. Eating a chocolate Easter bunny is a whole lot more fun that contemplating a cruel and vicious execution and the death of a popular but defeated hero.
Maybe we need to change the story to make it more acceptable to our culture. We could, for example, talk about Jesus as a great teacher, a humanitarian whose words and deeds serve to inspire us even though he is dead. If we emphasise that side, we don’t have to deal with the sordid and messy details like death and all that. Jesus could join the ranks of people such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. We could use Easter to celebrate the words of Jesus and pledge to make the world a better place by trying to follow some of his teachings–and still enjoy all the candy.
The words of Jesus are important. The things he did are important. But in the end, without the cross and the tomb which becomes empty, his story is somewhat pointless and meaningless. And that is because underneath the whole story is a much deeper, much more unpleasant truth that our culture simply doesn’t want to see or deal with.
This deep and unpleasant truth concerns us as human beings. Easter is built on the fact that we are not what we think we are and we are not what we were meant to be. Easter reminds us that we are all flawed and imperfect beings who got ourselves into a mess that we can’t get ourselves out of and need serious help.
Easter tells us that we are as much a part of the corrupt, self-serving political-religious machine that executed Jesus as Pilate and the chief priest and the fickle crowed who praised on Palm Sunday and jeered on Good Friday. We are those people and they are us–we are all tainted and damaged–we are all both the perpetrators and victims of sin, both ours and everyone else’s’. This inconvenient truth poses problems for most people. We generally recognize the reality of sin but want sin to be something we see on TV from some distant place were really evil people do terrible things. We don’t want sin to be something we do and we definitely don’t want it to be something serious enough that Jesus needs to go through all that cruelty and pain and injustice because of us.
But that is the story. That is the reality. And if most people prefer a chocolate bunny to this real story, that is understandable–not right but understandable. We all tend to run away from what we don’t like–a good diversion beats reality hands down in our culture.
As for me–well, I like a chocolate bunny now and then–but don’t really need it. I hate the idea of a crucifixion and unjust death–but boy do I need the resurrection and the forgiveness and acceptance that the risen, living Christ provides.
May the peace of God be with you.