Easter: What Difference Does It Make?

jesus-resurrection

Easter came and went. I celebrated the Jesus’ resurrection by attending church, listening to the Hallelujah chorus, and dying Easter eggs with family. My social media was filled with people in flowery spring outfits, taking pictures in the sun. I saw smiles, Easter bunnies, and Christian graphics.

And yet the whole time, I was haunted by this question:

What difference does it make?

I heard this question posed by the minister at my church yesterday, and initially I didn’t give it much thought. Theologically, I know the range of interpretive rhetoric regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. I know that the resurrection is supposed to change everything. It is *the* central Christian holiday, the holiday that shows that death has been overcome and Jesus lives.

Then I woke up this morning. Still sleepy, I scroll through social media and see smiling faces and phrases like, “He is risen.” Intellectually, I believe that with my whole heart. Intellectually and theologically, I agree that the cross and resurrection change everything about this life and about the next.

I look at the rising sun and hear my dog barking, ready for her walk. The weather has been abnormally warm for this time of year in Michigan, which is a scary omen of the state of worldwide climate change.

I also woke up early with a racing heart, which is a normal phenomenon given my cluster of anxiety symptoms, which never seem to give me rest, no matter what medication I’m on. There is more talk in the news about nuclear bombs and discord in the Middle East, reminding me that 80% of evangelical Christians, all of whom likely celebrated Easter yesterday, voted for a man who spent Holy Week on Twitter rampages and completed a missile attack while eating chocolate cake in his golf club.

In this moment, if I’m really, truly, being honest, it doesn’t feel like I’m living in the world of a resurrected Christ.

In the sermons I heard over the weekend, I listened to variants of this: If the resurrection is real, we need not have any worries about things going on in our lives or even death. We are freed up to be agents of the Kingdom of God in all aspects of our lives.

While I agree with this, it also misses a lot of the nuances of what it means to be an Easter people in a world that is anything but. Yes, God is in control, and the promise of future resurrection and the redemption of all things are things to which we can cling, but the world we live in is still so, so broken. How can we enforce religious platitudes when there is so much pain that glimmers on the news, in the sirens down the street, and in broken relationships or lives?

My questions are far from unique, and to gain some perspective, I’d like to take us back to that first Easter for a moment. The story of Holy Week is often diluted through our 21st century Western Christian/ post-Christian/ post-Enlightenment lens. The first Easter was anything but pretty floral dresses, church lilies, and spiritual platitudes. It was revolutionary, dangerous, inherently political, and life-changing.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is a whirlwind story of community, servant love and leadership, betrayal, torture, death, abandonment, waiting, pain, anticipation, joy, surprise, shock, worship, terror, and confusion.

Reading the disciples’ words throughout the Gospels, you can almost hear Jesus roll his eyes through the pages, like, “Why don’t you guys understand literally ANYTHING I’m telling you?”

Prevalent in Jewish ideology at the time was the Messianic expectation that when the Messiah would come, he (or she, who knows) would establish a political rule, and the Jewish people would once again have political control. This was enticing especially in light of the oppressive Romans. Jesus’ disciples comment about Jesus establishing an earthly kingdom at different points. Cue Jesus’ exasperation.

Jesus taught ideas that far departed from the religious ideas at the time. He talked about a Kingdom that was political and subversive. It would establish shalom, the peace and restoration of all things, but not in the way anybody believed. When Jesus talked about his death and resurrection, it was not something the disciples could even comprehend at the time.

In the face of opposition and pressure, Jesus chose the right thing, even when it was hardest of all. He was not afraid to speak up against injustice and rules of his time. When accused of heresy and sentenced to death, Jesus was silent. On the cross, Jesus forgave those who killed them and extended love to criminals dying next to him. His last words involved called God, “Abba,” that can be translated as the endearing term, “Daddy.”

Jesus was not the Messiah people expected, but he was the Messiah we needed.

Thinking back to that first Easter, the quiet mourning of women, the fear and surprise when met with angels at an empty tomb, the raw emotion of the disciples… It was not cliché nor did it have anything to do with eggs or bunnies. It was beautiful and mysterious. Too often we become desensitized to its depth and power because we have heard the story so many times. Too often do we resort to simple truisms rather than address how Easter inherently shifts perspective and changes lives for those who believe in a risen God.

In the days, and weeks, and centuries that have followed Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians are forced to live in an uncomfortable tension: Jesus’ resurrection is complete. He is sitting at the right hand of the father, advocating for us, loving us. Yet, the resurrection of all things is not here. While Christians aren’t supposed to fear death, many of us do. Many of us worry about our sins being forgiven, and then there are the questions about hell. What about our loved ones who don’t believe? What about the broken earth? We say in church there is hope for us here on earth as well as the life to come, but do we believe it? Sometimes I don’t.

There is so much tangible, visible resurrection on this earth to point to as symbols of God’s life, death, resurrection, and promises. But there is also so much pain. Easter comes every year, but even there, I feel anticipation. I see rustles of resurrection to come, and I celebrate God’s resurrection every year, but there is not yet a final Easter. Meaning, the final Easter season when all is made whole that has been broken, and the Kingdom of God rules a new heaven and new earth.

I saw this so clearly the day I got engaged. It was the happiest day of my life, the day when I agreed to marry my best friend, a man God has placed so gracefully and lovingly in my life. The very next day, I woke up to hear that a girl whose cancer journey I followed on Facebook had died. She was 26. One of her last wishes was to get married to her loyal boyfriend who stuck with her through what was first believed to be treatable cancer, which then turned into uncontrollable cancer that had reached her bone marrow when she died. The girl’s mom said that a few days before her death, this girl was semi-conscious, and her boyfriend slipped a ring on her finger. They don’t know if she was aware enough to comprehend. I looked down at my own left ring finger, and tears came. It wasn’t fair, I whispered to God. Why did you deny her this?

So back to my question: What difference does it make?

The story of Easter makes no difference at all unless these things are true: That the God who defines and embodies love lived a perfect life only to die as a criminal and was raised on the third day; That this embodiment of God with holes in his hands is seated at the right hand of the father and intercedes constantly on our behalf.

Easter shows that nothing in all the world, not the future or past, neither angels nor demons, nor heaven nor hell can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). This story shifts our perspective. It’s a game-changer. Easter shows us that God is trustworthy and he keeps his promises, even though that can be hard to hold on to in a fractured world.

Just like the disciples misses Jesus’ words even when Jesus spent 24/7 with them, I am not able to comprehend God’s mysterious ways. I cannot understand why certain things are the way they are, but I know God is good, and if he says, “It is finished,” then it is.

Part of Revelation 21:5 kept popping into my head all Easter weekend, “See, I am making all things new!”

Honestly, my first instinct is to challenge it, “What about the state of American politics? What about Syria and North Korea? Why is the American church so consumed with abortion and homosexuality at the expense of the poor and vulnerable? Why isn’t everything new already? You came 2000+ years ago!”

I imagine God smiling at me with love. No words, just love. Just like my therapist smiles at me when I say something so ridiculous that she feels no need to respond, but she’ll still give me a symbol she still cares. My therapist never says, “Okay, we’ve been over this 1000 times and you don’t get it still.” She smiles, and she stays with me, knowing that I will figure it out in time.

God always reminds me, gently, that there is indeed a new order in this realm and the next. It is not up to me to figure out every nuance, nor should I play God and dictate what is and isn’t fair; it is up to me to further God’s kingdom as much as I can with the time I have. With the rustle of the wind, the smile of my loving fiancé, and laughing with friends, I see soft glimpses of the open tomb and hands with holes. On a good day, in a good moment, I feel in my bones that the Kingdom is here already, and it beckons my attention. God keeps his promises. He always has and always will.

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But You Hope

hope

*This is a poem I wrote several years ago as a theological and emotional reaction to Holy Week, pain and resurrection, and the tension of the now-and-not-yet Kingdom of God.

That moment of agony when you realize
that nothing in the world

no amount of numbing
or screaming
or hiding
can make it feel okay again.

you are left with a void,
an absence of what should be
and nothing can be done about it.

you are left there, dying
holding onto the faint hope of a Being much greater than yourself
that is able to make these dead, broken, dry bones come back to life again

you do not know, but you hope that God can cling onto you
when you are not able to cling onto anything at all

you do not know, but you hope.