April 5, 2015
The bunnies, the chicks, the chocolate candies and the baskets are splendidly Easterish this year.
I heard a shopper gush, “Aren’t these baskets just darling? Aren’t these bunnies the cutest things ever?” She appeared to be an intelligent individual, but hearing her response to a pile of pricey pink and yellow bunnies made me think that I needed to revise my initial estimation.
On a more serious (and beautiful) note, there are tall, regal lilies in windows everywhere. Happy Easter!!
Despite the decorations, I haven’t been able to get excited about the displays (chocolate the major exception). And, truth be told, I have had only a mild pleasure in the lilies. There’s a reason for my attitude, and it’s more than a Scroogish response to consumer oriented extravagance.
The problem stems from the fact that I’ve read accounts of this Easter affair written by people who were physically on the scene when it happened.
In Jerusalem, the political conflict culminated with the official killing of an admittedly innocent man by means of brutal torture. The man was crucified (a common Roman means of executing those deemed inconvenient to Caesar).
When the man was taken down from the cross there was no question but that he was dead. The body was released to family and friends for immediate burial in a borrowed tomb so that Sabbath rituals might be scrupulously observed. Pilate and his wife were uneasy about the whole affair. An official Roman military guard was set to watch the tomb.
There was a disturbance in the night of the Sabbath (the guards' story to their supervisors confirms this). But according to the story of those on the scene, the big problem began early in the morning the day after Sabbath when a group of women (family and friends of the executed man) came to anoint the body. To their amazement they found the tomb open (a large stone had been rolled away), and the body vanished. No Roman guards remained to explain the strange circumstances. Two large figures of dazzling light were there, however, and explained to the women that the dead man who had been placed in the tomb was now alive and had left the tomb.
Numbers of people began to insist on the basis of personal experience that the dead man was now alive and had been seen and recognized.
Some of his followers reported that he had come to them in a room where they were hiding, keeping out of Roman sight. His dead-now-alive body had strange abilities—he could cover large distances almost instantly, and could enter rooms in a way that made those present think he had come through the door in a way quite different than the way they had entered the room.
But his body was unquestionably real—the scars from the nails driven in his hands and feet were all too clear (he freely offered those with questions the opportunity to touch them). Other physical responses were natural (he ate bread and fish with them), but it was clear that this present body while real was changed from the before-death body it had been.
Two people walked and talked with him on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They did not fully recognize who he was, however, until, having reached Emmaus, they sat down to eat together. When he blessed and broke the loaf of bread they shared, they suddenly recognized him and he disappeared.
The story reads like investigative journalism at its best: reports of sightings are tracked down and witnesses interviewed. There were appearances at the sea shore (including a memorable breakfast on the beach with his disciples), other appearances—one account said that one group of approximately five hundred saw him.
But it is what those on the scene reported that he said that gives me trouble with the bunnies and the chickens and the baskets of colored eggs.
He said, “It was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again the third day. With my authority, take this message. . . there is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me. You are witnesses of all these things.” [Luke: 24:47-48 NLT]
What he said was, to paraphrase, “You have these first person accounts that I was dead, and that now I am alive. You also have the old sacred texts that explain that this would happen. Now go tell people that it happened just as the old texts foretold. And tell people that all who turn to me have forgiveness of sin.”
I believe that story. I think those on the scene reported accurately even those things they could not understand.
So, now I’m stuck.
No matter how cute the bunnies, and how tempting the chocolate, I can find no way off the hook. He did not command us to send Easter baskets.
He commanded us to tell his story with its impossible ending: there was a brutally murdered man who came alive again, and his coming alive from the dead has altered forever the way God deals with our broken selfish selves.
Easter baskets (particularly those with chocolate) are fine. My Easter Lilly is quite beautiful.
However, I have reread again carefully the report of those who were on the scene. I am forced to acknowledge that the Easter message was not designed to be conveyed by rabbits and chickens, and symbolized by colored eggs.
The message was designed to be conveyed person-to-person by those people who know first hand new life out of brokenness because of this man's death-into-life.
For nearly two thousand years the traditional Easter greeting is the triumphant announcement: “He is risen!! He is risen!!” And those who hear, then respond, “He is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
Across the miles I send my greeting: “He is risen!! He is risen!!”
I am blessed here in my quiet study as I imagine your joyous response: “He is risen indeed!! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!"
See you next week.