Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What’s the Big Deal About Easter? (Dialogue Column 4.7.09)

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

Every year, I am surprised by the people who show up at church for Easter Sunday whom I have never met before. (The same thing happens on Christmas Eve.) Usually, they are people who want to be in church on Easter and they wandered into the one I happen to be serving at. Sometimes, they introduce themselves to me as lapsed church members who used to come regularly, and we begin the awkward dance of me trying to welcome them without making them feel guilty. I often wonder what has brought these pilgrims and prodigals to church on this particular day. On the surface of things, it really is no different than any other Sunday, but something inside of them compels them to come. They come because Easter Sunday is special, even if they do not know why it is special or what makes it so. I reckon there are many regular churchgoers who feel the same way but do not admit it. We all just sort of assume that everyone knows why Easter is special, but if we were forced to articulate the “why” and the “what” of Easter’s special nature, words might now come easily to us.

Beyond the egg hunts and new clothes, most Christians-whether they are practicing or not—could probably come up with an explanation that goes something like “we are celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.” If asked “what is so special about the resurrection?” I wonder what most believers would say. For many, they would speak of Jesus’ death on the cross as somehow enabling believers to go to heaven, but that is the work of Good
Friday; we don’t make as big of a deal about that day. Instead, we celebrate the empty tomb on Sunday. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection, even if we are not sure what good it does any of us.

This Sunday, I will try to offer words that explain and describe what the big deal is about Christ’s resurrection. Why is it celebrated on one of two biggest days of the church year? Why is it that people will show up on Easter, even if they fail to darken a church door the rest of the year? Here are a few of the thoughts that may make it into Sunday’s sermon based upon the reading I’m doing this year:

1. This year I’ve been moved by Gail O’Day’s writings on John’s Gospel. She writes that John understands Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension as one event, an event that transforms the world. In Christ, God takes the worst the world has to offer in terms of violence, hatred and division and transforms it into a life-giving, unifying and loving force that draws everyone to God.

2. The feminist scholar Elizabeth Johnson offers the idea that in the life, death and resurrection of Christ we see a new creation. The same life-giving spirit of God that created the universe raises Jesus from death, so in Christ we witness the God who not only gives life to things that are dead but creates life from nothing. This same God seeks to give life to us here and now.

3. Luke Timothy Johnson writes that Jesus is either alive or dead. If he is dead, then we may learn “about” him or even “seek to be like” him but we certainly cannot learn “from” him. If, on the other hand, he is alive—having been raised from the dead—then he remains available to us—we can learn “from” the one who “has broken every rule of ordinary human existence.” If Jesus is alive and present to us now—not just a noble figure of history, then we have access right now to the amazing and wonderful life he offers to us.

These are a few of the ideas I am thinking about this week as I prepare to celebrate Easter. Whether these thoughts ring true to why Easter is special to you or not, I look forward to seeing you Sunday as we experience this special day together.

Grace and Peace,


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