Christmas, as a holy day, is a lot easier for many “progressive” Christians in
this day and age to celebrate than Easter. This may be partly because of the
contrasting imagery. The principal Christmas image of Jesus is a newborn baby lying
in a manger surrounded by placid domesticated animals. The Easter image of Jesus
is a young guy from a minority ethnic group, harassed and discarded, hung up to die
as a troublemaker by the local authorities. The Christmas image is comforting in its
greeting card simplicity and distance, like stars twinkling down on small villages on
clear nights, nestled in among the hills and valleys of an ancient, long ago Palestine.
The Easter image is the opposite: discomfiting, complex, and way too close to
home; after all, people who look like Jesus are still harassed and cast aside by people
of “legitimate” authority. If we haven’t had a brush with that experience ourselves,
we may very well know someone who has, or are at least uncomfortably aware of
our own acquiescent complicity in perpetuating similar violent injustices today. In
many ways, Christmas images highlight the best potential of our humanity, while
Easter images seem to remind us of our worst.
The theology of Easter is also harder for many “liberal” Christians to discuss
than is their theology of Christmas. If, during a “group share” moment in worship or
bible study, I asked you to discuss your theology of the cross, I would expect more
deer-in-the-headlights looks than if I asked you to discuss your theology of the
manger at Bethlehem. Theologies of Christmas describe promises fulfilled, and
happy subjects like comfort, and hope, to which even non-believers can relate.
Theologies of Easter, on the other hand, conjure up difficult subjects like
condemnation, suffering, sin, and redemption. These are strong words with heavy
religious overtones that some people dismiss out of hand because the words make
them uncomfortable. You can talk about a secular celebration of Christmas, but,
bunnies, eggs, and peeps aside, it’s pretty hard to have a secular discussion of the
Christian cross of Easter.
So, what are we, as Christians, celebrating in March and April of each year?
Other than enjoying the return of more sunlight to our gloomy, drippy Pacific
Northwest environment, what is the message of the Easter cross we carry out into
the world, and who needs to hear it? In December we celebrate the “Christmas
spirit” of good will toward all humanity, but how are we supposed to sum up the
The cross—and you cannot avoid the cross if you’re going to talk about
Christian Easter—is about what happens in relationship. All our human
relationships– with God, with ourselves, among our families, friends, strangers,
communities, and environment—involve constant encounters that invite nurture or
repulsion. Sin can be viewed as the many ways in which we create distance in our
relationships—ways in which we have not “measured up” on all the relational
yardsticks by which we might gauge a potential positive encounter. God tugs and
pulls us into relationship because from those relationships–some life-giving, and
some not—in our life and work, with friends and strangers; at work and play, with
the ecosystems and non-human lives around us — can come growth and
development, and the building and becoming of our better selves.
Judgment, meanwhile, at least at the human level, is about whether or not we
believe that we ourselves, or those around us, have “measured up” in all those
relationships. God may set the possibilities for those relationships, but how have we
responded? As a chaplain, I note that the people who suffer the most spiritually as
they approach death are those who feel they are passing from this life into whatever
lies next feeling unforgiven for all the ways in which they have not measured up, on
whatever yardstick they use: their familial or cultural expectations, their hometown
hopes, the Ten Commandments from Sinai, their faith tradition’s understanding of
God’s expectations, the Beatitudes, their own ideal, or that of their
spouse—whatever their reckoning point may be. In their hearts, they blew it and
they know it and now they are out of time to ever repair the damage they have done.
They may even be conscious of having sown the seeds for more wreckage and
suffering, passing down through several more generations.
For these folks, whose burden of sin still haunts them, and drags them down,
talk of “floating free” or “flying” home to God, or reuniting after death with their lost
family causes only panic and dread. They believe that when they go to cross that
final river, they will drown, weighed down by their regret, which is inevitably
framed by their own notions of their sin. For a Roman Catholic woman who spoke
with me, it was the abortion from the unwanted pregnancy following her
extramarital affair; for a man with lifelong addictions, it was his remembered self-
righteous fits of anger, lashing out to hit his children—again and again—these were
the sins that would haunt them to their deaths. Whatever they did; they could never
be “good” enough.
When we talk about the Spirit of Christian Easter being God’s deep grace, it is
God saying, “You are enough.” The message of Christ’s cross is that, “Eternal love
will heal the wounds that time and creation cannot.” Easter is about Jesus lifting the
weight of those heavy stones off from around humanity’s neck, so that even when
we cannot imagine ever finding our way out of the dark woods, or imagine a bridge
across that river, God rescues us. This is the Easter spirit we celebrate, the “good
news” that we share, in our community service, in our listening presence, and in our
fellowship with one another: that, in this post-Easter world, all may believe that it is
enough, that we are enough, doing as best we can do under the circumstances,
serving however we serve, loving whomever we love, and praying however we pray.
Rita Nakashima Brock, in her book, Proverbs of Ashes, about violence and
redemptive suffering, captures this beautifully when she writes:
Let us say that life shows us the face of God
Only in fleeting glimpses,
By the light of nightfires,
In dancing shadows,
In departing ghosts,
And in recollections of steady love.
Let us say that this is enough,
Enough for us to run with perseverance the race
That is set before us,
Enough for us to stand against violence,
Enough for us to hold each other
In benediction and in blessing.
-Rev. Jill Komura