It’s Easter and if you’re not already stuffed on chocolate I suggest you stop reading and get to it. What other time in the year will you be able to indulge, guilt free.
It’s an interesting idea isn’t it? At Christmas and Halloween we know we’re going to eat a lot of candy but it’s not until after when we hit the scales and the self disgust kicks in. But at Easter, a time when we are supposed to remember the ridiculous, non sensical gift of Grace, we give ourselves permission to indulge.
Perhaps that is the link that we’ve been looking for between chocolate and Easter. Although if you need an excuse to eat chocolate until you’re sick then there is something deeply wrong with you.
But it’s a different idea of Easter that had me thinking this Lent period.
The Easter message is the moment when God began the work of restoring the world and bringing healing to everyone and everything.
As part of this, there is a belief that many of us hold on a somewhat subconscious level that we are responsible for Jesus death. That every time we screw up it’s as good as us hammering in the nails ourselves.
Maybe you find this notion extremely problematic.
Or maybe it is incredibly helpful to you.
This, I think is the magnificent thing about the Easter story. That it encapsulates all human experience and not just the one that we’ve been told is true.
Easter has to be bigger than all of us for it to be of worth to any of us. (Tweet this)
Another issue many have with Easter is that it can be a pretty depressing story for a couple of days until that moment when Christ rises from his death and begins the process of renewing and giving new life to everything and everyone.
But this shouldn’t be surprising. It’s the way the universe has been set up. Death always precedes new life. The fall of the leaves represent death as they signal the beginning of the long, cold bitterness of Winter, as we await with baited breath Spring and a new birth.
Or maybe that’s just Michigan.
Or as our skin sheds constantly over our lifetime, we grow and mature and our hair gets longer and our skin gets more wrinkly, we prune away until we mature into adulthood. Every fall as a toddler; every scraped knee a preclude to finding our feet.
Atoms split and yet the universe is constantly expanding.
Our universe is a beautiful cocktail of contradictions.
And then we come to Jesus. His brutal death and resurrection a reminder that this is not the end. That the hopelessness and pain we feel today, does not necessarily mean it will be so tomorrow. Sometimes our hopelessness lasts a couple of days, sometimes years, often a lifetime. But it’s a reminder that something needs to die; to give way to something better.
This can not be all there is can it? The Easter story gives us an emphatic “no”
“That’s lovely but…”
For many of us the story of Easter doesn’t hold this power to change. It’s a time when we simply give ourselves over to more shame and guilt; reminding us that yet again we find ourselves confronted with radical Grace and yet again we’ve fallen short.
God then becomes impatient and hostile towards us. Judgmental and angry. We can’t get our shit together and time is running out.
Which has brought me to a new reading of the Easter story. Not the correct reading but a new one that is bringing me hope and peace.
One of the fascinating and just outright weird aspects of the Easter story is how when Jesus rises, His closest friends don’t recognize him. Mary Magdalene, who came to tend to his body finds herself confronted with a walking breathing Jesus but only able to identify Him as a gardener. Perhaps it’s the shock or the just plain insane idea that someone can rise from the dead but Jesus is unrecognizable until He makes Himself known.
It’s not the most bizarre aspect of a story about a man coming back to life after a few days, but it’s bizarre all the same.
This is a theme that pops up regularly in the Scriptures. One where the Holy was right in front of us but we didn’t know it. Perhaps because we were expecting something different. So maybe something has to die for us to have our eyes open.
The idea that we are active participants in crucifying Jesus or God has mostly been used to create fear and certainty and to keep up is line. The ironic muffling of Grace in case we get too carried away with it.
But what if there is a better reading of this.
“Not My God”
For many of us God represents tribal politics, or anger, or a parent who abandoned us, or a god that loves your country more than their country. Or maybe god is a church that focuses on rules or has left you lost when you needed them the most, or someone who hates you because you are gay, or needs defending from a “war on Easter/Christmas” or who considers questions and doubt as weakness.
All of these things can lead us to a place of hopelessness and anger.
Who can believe in gods like those?
Maybe, when people say they can’t believe in a god like this, the appropriate response as Christians is, neither do we.
That like Mary, we fail to see Jesus risen because our lives, stories and experiences have convinced us that He looks like something else.
Perhaps you need to crucify your god this Easter. Maybe you need to hammer in the nail of a god who hasn’t worked for you. I know this is an unpopular idea in many Christian circles; an idea misconstrued to mean a god who simply exists to give you all your hopes and dreams and wealth.
In rebelling against this idea we have lent too far in the other direction. But the experience of God many of us have, hasn’t led to freedom.
We experience pain and hopelessness and our ideas about God are what cause much of this.
This is not about God existing to serve us, but about a realization that God joyfully and Graciously desires an experience of wholeness and peace and life for all of us.
No matter how painful our experience of God is, crucifying these beliefs or ideas can be incredibly painful. The disciples felt this acutely as they witnessed their idea of Jesus coming to save Israel from the evil Roman Empire brutally disintregate before their eyes. Their spiritual guide and leader was betrayed by one of their very own, tortured horribly and killed.
They experienced their own deeply personal experience of crucifying their idea of god and for three days it seemed like their whole life purpose was a fraud.
This is undoubtedly a painful experience. No matter how much we know our experience of god has been toxic or harmful, giving that up is a challenge. It’s why addiction is so difficult. We know and deeply feel this thing that never gives us what we hoped, but we can’t stop. It’s part of who we are. There is something deeply comforting about it.
Similarly giving up ideas of god that are creating shame and guilt or that create hate more than love is one of the most difficult spiritual practices any of us can partake in.
It’s comforting to believe we are right.
But as we’ve discovered, new life always sprouts from death. The despair is never the end.
A new Jesus appeared. A new God. One that even His closest friends failed to see. It was better than they had hoped.
I’ve found Easter difficult because for a long time the idea of shame clung to me so tightly. That was my god. A god who couldn’t get past the addictions and the hypocrisy to give me any sense of His Love or Peace.
A god that I tried to appease by being sure of theology. If I can just prove to you how smart I am, then maybe I can feel ok today. But these were just attempts to mask a deeper pain. Honestly, I don’t write this from a place where I have fully crucified my gods but I am getting there. Autumn and Winter don’t just last a moment, they last months. But Spring and Summer are coming.
My prayer for you this Easter is that you are confronted by something unrecognizable.
Startling and weird. Frightening yet freeing. An idea of God that transforms everything for you. It’s in letting go that you’ll finally feel secure.
Because in that place, is where true transformation will happen for you.
And a new birth will create new life.
It’s time for all of us to celebrate new life, regardless of religion, gender, race, wealth or anything else that divides us.
Now it’s time, for Resurrection.