First, there is the Easter that has been hijacked by consumerism. Discount and grocery store shelves are filled with chocolate candies wrapped in pastel colors…the same sweets that sported orange and black just a few months ago. Kitchen appliance and decor stores boast chicks, eggs and bunny-painted plates that seem to guarantee a fabulous Easter dinner, complete with perfect families and a stress free day…as if there is such a thing. Department stores and boutiques have their window mannequins decked out in floral dresses and seersucker suits. Hats are not only everywhere; they seem to be a mandatory purchase. We are bombarded with the consumer version of the holiday – complete with promises that if we buy just the right stuff, our Easter will be as magical as the moment when Mary Magdalene realized it wasn’t the gardener she was speaking to.
Then, there is the other Easter. You know the one where we are supposed to become joyful because Jesus died on a cross to atone for my sorry life and filter how I appear to God? Like, I am supposed to be glad that this perfect, amazing man who died a gruesome, painful death simply because of me…okay, and all the rest of humanity…came back to life and I am somehow supposed to trust the god that planned this horrific event that happened to his “beloved”? I mean, love a god that slaughters innocence? I know, I know…it’s about the resurrection not the crucifixion; yet somehow in this theological format the emphasis always ends up on the wrong event.
The thing is, there is an Easter that I not only believe in, it’s one that I can find embedded with joy, trust and love for God. It’s one that absolutely recognizes Christ’s death on the cross and His return to life. The difference is, the Easter I believe in also celebrates Christ’s life simply because it is through his life that he taught us how to live. It’s so obvious in the text of John 14: 6-12.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
Do you see it? Of course, it’s all about the semantics. Who hasn’t experienced a zealous Christian evangelist who preaches belief in Jesus is a pre-requisite for salvation by using this text? But, what is it we are supposed to believe? That there was a virgin birth? That God is so angry at humanity that only Christ can convince God not to turn his back on us forever? That if I follow a prescribed set of religious behaviors then I, too, can be saved? That God hates certain groups of people? That God is gender specific?
It seems to me that Jesus said it all and humanity spent the next couple of millennia not only defining what he meant, but making rules that have very little to do with the message of God’s love that Jesus preached and modeled through his life and ministry. In this passage from John, Jesus basically says, “Look at me. Look at how I love even those who others think are unlovable. Do you see how I was compassionate even with someone who everyone else hated? Someone who was outcast? Someone who was unclean? Someone who was alone, forgotten, crippled??? I spent time with tax collectors, women, social misfits, zealots, Pharisees and a whole litany of crazy, mixed-up people and enjoyed them all! And, you know what? To know me is to know my father. You see me, you know who I am and how I am excited about every single person I meet! Well guess what! God longs to know you, too! The thing is, God wants you to know God as he/she is…not the ogre humanity has made out of convoluted images of God. I am like God and God is like me. Isn’t that good news???!!!”
That said, I find it impossible to believe that God mandated Christ’s brutal, painful death. What I do find plausible is that certain groups saw Jesus as a threat to their power and authority. Others saw him as disruptive to their way of life. To maintain the order of life, as they knew it, Jesus had to go away. But, he wouldn’t! He continued to preach and teach God’s ways even when his own safety was threatened. He knew it was a matter of time and he attempted to prepare his followers for the day when he was gone. Jesus loved people, but understood the dark side of human nature well enough to know that his time was limited. Is that what God wanted or intended? I sincerely doubt it. I believe God wanted humanity to embrace the message Christ brought to them from God. That message showed people the “way” which was “truth” and offered “light” to the dangers of a life lived honoring wealth, power and authority. Jesus’s way showed humanity what it meant to live life as God created us all to live.
I often use the example of a toaster. It comes with an instruction booklet to let the owner know how to use it safely, limitations of its function and what to do if it isn’t working. The bottom line is, the toaster is designed to do certain things. If I decided to make pancakes in my toaster – not the pre-made frozen variety, but homemade buttermilk pancakes – I would create a horrible mess. My toaster would be dripping with batter, the heating elements would likely blow out, there would be the stench of burned goo, and I not only have to make other plans for breakfast, I would probably need to send my toaster in for repairs. A toaster is not made to make pancakes. However, if I make toast in my toaster, I will be happy with the results and my toaster won’t wear out quite as quickly. Maybe I’ll try to make a grilled cheese sandwich in it, or toast a frosted pastry. If I do, I again run the risk of damaging my toaster. If I keep expecting my toaster to do things that it was never intended to do, I might need to have someone show me how to properly use it. The engineer who designed it might come to help me. Most likely, I would get my tutorial from someone else who knew what the engineer intended in his/her design and could guide me along the way.
God lovingly created us and the world we live in. Throughout time God has attempted to hand us an owners manual. Take the 10 Commandments for example. They are a guide for living by loving God above all things and loving others as we love ourselves. When humanity had issues following the rules, God sent Jesus to show us what living as God designed us to live looked like. Jesus is the way…God’s way. Can anyone picture Jesus nailing someone to a cross? I can’t. Yet, to know Jesus is to know God. It doesn’t fit that God’s vengeance came in the form of murder. Killing unrighteous behavior with love, kindness, compassion and mercy is more likely.
You see, I believe that the crucifixion is a minor event in the fascinating story of God’s love. Even when humanity attempted to destroy God’s message of love and hope, God won. Jesus went to the tomb and on the third day…a day that should have found his body decaying and smelly, a day that the ancient culture would have identified as verification that he was really, REALLY dead…Jesus lived. Furthermore, he didn’t live to tell us that God was done with us and that the only reason he had to die was our fault for being such failures. He lived to tell humanity that, in Paul’s words, “…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Now, that’s an Easter I can get excited about! Alleluia!!!