EASTER’S GOOD NEWS

 

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

“Easter spirit?”

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

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