There are at least two Easters — the one we celebrate in church and the one that you don’t need to be Christian to appreciate.
Culturally speaking, Easter is a rite of spring marked by candy eggs, children’s games, and opportunities for merchants to sell us stuff we don’t really need. Some Christians complain about the commercialization of Christmas. Easter faces a similar fate. I can’t do much about our culture’s tendency to reduce every religious conviction to a sound bite or a half-off sale, but I’d like to point out that there is a lot more to Easter than chocolate bunnies and honey-baked hams.
The other Easter has to do with a man named Jesus, a first-century rabbi who had a brief ministry in a far-flung corner of the Roman Empire which now includes Israel and the Palestinian territories. You can read about Jesus in the four Gospels, where each writer gives his particular perspective on what Jesus said and did.
Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom (or Reign) of God. That alone would probably not have gotten him into trouble, but he did more that preach about God’s reign. He embodied it. He did this by welcoming people who had been excluded from society, setting people free from diseases, reaching across racial and national boundaries, and re-defining what it means to love one’s neighbor. Standing firmly in the line of Hebrew prophets before him, Jesus showed us what God’s love and justice require. Jesus opened a window on the Kingdom of God.
But Jesus’ embodied message got him into jeopardy with both the religious and political authorities of his day. He was condemned for blasphemy and sedition and executed on a cross – a death both humiliating and indescribably cruel.
And that should have been the end of the story. Jesus was unceremoniously buried in a borrowed tomb and his demoralized followers huddled behind closed doors, fearing a similar demise. Given what Jesus was up against, no reasonable person could have expected anything else.
But here’s where Easter comes in. This isn’t the end of the story. Jesus, who was dead, was raised. Of course, I know how ridiculous that must sound to people these days. His followers didn’t believe it at first, either. But it’s true. You can bet your life on it.
I’m very much aware that there are many people who don’t accept the Easter story as literal truth. I accept that. There are times when I have my own doubts. I don’t think the truth of Jesus’ resurrection depends on my faithfulness, but on the faithfulness of God – the same God who called Jesus his “Beloved Son,” the same God who raised Jesus from the dead.
You don’t have to buy into the Easter story in order to join Christian believers in the work that Jesus started – and, we believe, continues to share with us. You can help build a Habitat for Humanity house, or feed the hungry, or house the homeless, or grow food in a community garden, or join the struggle for fair wages in Florida’s tomato fields. In Christian terms, you’ll be doing “Kingdom work,” and we’re glad to have the partnership.
I try not to hold a grudge against my neighbors who treat Easter as no more than a quaint myth or a commercial opportunity. It’s hard, but I’m trying. By the presence of the risen Christ, I am still a work in progress.