Praying for an Unremarkable Easter
Easter approaches again. And it approaches without a lot of hoopla. Easter approaches again. That Sunday marks the high point on the church’s annual calendar. Christ rose from the dead! Incredible! Amazing! Earth-shaking! Eternal life is ushered in as death is ushered out.
This awesome, history-changing news doesn’t seem to garner as much attention as Christmas, however. Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus are safely in the manger as the natal star shines and angels sing their “Glorias” and shepherds bow down and animals settle down in the hay for the night. We rejoice and tell Christmas stories and prepare for Christ’s birth for weeks on end. We are bursting with excitement as we sing the beautiful carols and light candles. What gift we’ve been given!
I’ve always wondered why there’s such a stark contrast between these two Mount Everests of history. Why are we so agog about events of Bethlehem, and so pedestrian about events of Jerusalem? Because it seems to me that there should be just as much—if not more–preparation and celebration and rejoicing over Christ’s resurrection as there is about Christ’s birth. The inequality just seems strange, perhaps wrong.
Maybe the disparity is due to the fact that the biblical accounts of the events surrounding Easter are pretty subdued. Sure Matthew reports there was an earthquake, and there are varying accounts of the number of angels who showed up—a whopping one or two. Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Christ first—but she’s a woman, and women’s reliability and authority were always questioned in that society. So the accounts of James’ mother, Mary and Joanna, who accompanied Mary M, probably didn’t hold much weight either. We’re told Peter rushed off to the grave to check out Mary’s story. We’re also told other apostles, upon hearing the women’s story of the resurrection, most likely thought they were crazy. Doubt and confusion seemed to reign, not just on Easter Sunday, but in the days and weeks following that first Easter.
The great pastor and author, Frederick Buechner, might just have the answer to the disparity question when he wrote, that Easter isn’t a great big production. Instead, the Easter story isn’t much of a story because it doesn’t have the ring of great drama, but “has the ring of truth”. If the Gospel writers had wanted to tell it in a way to convince the world that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, they would presumably have done it with all the skill and fanfare they could muster.
Here there is no skill, no fanfare. They seem to be telling it simply the way it was. The narrative is as fragmented, shadowy, incomplete as life itself. When it comes to just what happened, there can be no certainty. That something unimaginable happened, there can be no doubt.
“The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. You can’t depict or domesticate emptiness. You can’t make it into pageants and string it with lights. It doesn’t move people to give presents to each other or sing old songs. It ebbs and flows all around us, the Eastertide. Even the great choruses of Handel’s Messiah sound a little like a handful of crickets chirping under the moon.”
Maybe the truth of Easter—that something unimaginable, amazing, terrific happened—is something that doesn’t need all the fanfare because it’s a truth that resides deep in our bones. We know the truth in our hearts and souls because our Creator placed it there. And when we embrace this truth, we can live each day confidently, knowing God’s love and mercy are eternally ours—gained for us by Christ on the cross. Certainly, it’s fantastic news to be celebrated. And surely, it’s a truth to be shared so that others might live confidently, trusting in the never-ceasing and never-ending grace of our God.