Sunday, April 08, 2007

About Easter

It's Easter, which was never my favoritechildhood holiday. The chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeprs were nice, but my mother had extremely mixed feelings about the candy and new clothing being in conflict with the Easter message. Should we really be trading jelly beans when the day commemorates the triumph over Death? A very heavy holiday in a lot of ways, scary too: the crucifixion, the betrayal with a kiss, the rock rolled away and the creepy empty tomb. There is so much more theology attached to Easter than to, say, Christmas, where the myths and traditions are all somehow lower key: it's a celebration, not the feverish praise of Death Having No Sting No More Hallelujah!

My favorite holiday in childhood was Halloween, which for low church protestants had no religious significance left at all. Halloween was dressing up and walking around after dark in crisp October air knocking on the neighbors' doors; Christmas had some pressure involved, but was mostly magical. But Easter was all about Don't eat the whole two pound chocolate bunny, you'll get sick and besides, you're supposed to be thinking about how Jesus died for your many, many sins and is now arisen and watching you!

Easter is about a theological conumdrum: that Jesus the teacher and man became or always was Christ who is also God.

What I like about Easter a lot is some rousing songs ("Up from the Grave He Arose! With a Mighty Triumph O'er His Foes!"-- on Friday, Lennie Lopate played terrific Easter gospel numbers on his radio show). I also am moved by the various versions of the story itself, the narrative of the popular new leader being arrested and deserted by the people as well as by his closest friends, then executed brutally and in a way reserved for the lowest of society. One of the great strengths of the Jesus story has always been the uplifting of the poor and humble and normally sinful. And then, whether you take it literally or not, there are the women discovering the empty tomb and the subsequent rise of an enormous religious and social movement. Fascinating stuff, however you slice it.

Today's New Jersey Star-Ledger has an interesting oipinion piece about the meaning of Easter for non-believers. The writer John Farmer emphasizes the message of love that Jesus said trumped everything else. I've always seen the drama of the Easter story as a story about Hope in the face of despair.

Hope and charity, then, even for those who aren't literal-minded Christians. Which leaves Faith, and I guess that anyone who can love and have hope without explicit guarantees of a prize at the end probably has to have more faith than the ones who believe Death will be followed immediately by a big reunion with family and friends and pets with no dog hair on the couch and no arguments with the family.

Happy Easter to All of Us!

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