Easter: What Difference Does It Make?

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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.

Post-Easter Reflections: Waiting for Sunday

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If I am being totally and completely transparent, this Easter was a time of dissonance for me.

It sounds strange. I mean, Jesus’ resurrection is the pinnacle of the Christian faith, the formation of my hope, and God’s ultimate “good news.” How is one not happy to wear white clothes, devour chocolate bunnies or eggs, sit in the sunshine, and sing song lyrics like, Oh death! Where is your sting? Oh hell! Where is your victory? Oh Church! Come stand in the light!

Christ is risen. He is alive.

I know those phrases like the back of my hand, and I do believe them.

The rhythm of Holy Week– the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death, waiting in darkness, and resurrection– is the most beautiful narrative I know. It culminates with the story of Easter, which promises that the present state of affairs is temporary, that resurrection and redemption have replaced decay and death. The hope of new life, the hope of the restoration of all things, the scared women at Jesus’ tomb hearing the words: He is not here; He is risen, as he said.

And while I affirm that the tomb is empty, sometimes it is hard for me to feel joy in celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. I beat myself up over why celebrating God’s good news can feel so forced to me. Am I inoculated to the story? Too cynical? Is the idea of resurrection too distant? How awful of a Christian I must be if I can’t genuinely say WOOHOO JESUS on command!

If I’m being honest, does some part of me wonder if Sunday has really come yet?

Metaphorically, I resonate much more with the Saturday of Holy Week, the day before Easter. In an angsty stage of my life, I wrote a poem entitled, “Perpetual Saturday,” related to this point. I think about Jesus’ disciples on the Saturday of Holy Week– the day after they lost everything (or so they thought). Maybe they were hiding in shame, weeping bitter tears of agony, stunned that their God had been brutally murdered. Everything– their purpose in life, their vision– had been shattered. They could not imagine what would happen when the sun rose the next morning. 

I resonate with humanity’s ache for wholeness. This age-old groan is evidenced as early as the Book of Job and is so beautifully articulated in the psalms of lament. Millions of people have echoed the cries, the hurting, the longing for what has not yet come. There is the the waiting… the waiting for so, so long… for God’s redemption.

And yes, Easter commemorates that the tomb is empty. Yes, the sun has come up. Yes, a new order of things has been reinstated by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But then so much of my life feels barren, as if Sunday’s radiance hasn’t come. The chasm between what is and what should be feels seismic, endless, insurmountable. The winter has been so long and brutal that my joy has frozen into an uncomfortable numbness, a hollow ache, a throbbing wound.

What happens when Saturday never seems to end?

My pastor preached a sermon this Easter aptly entitled, “Saturday is Always Followed by Sunday.” He concludes with this, “That day, when you see Jesus face to face in Heaven, you will look back at all the pain, all the frustration, all the despair, all the struggles of this world, and He calls you by name, you will look back, and think: it was all worth it.” I believe that his words are true: someday, somehow, all things will be reconciled to God. Winter will end. Jesus has risen from the dead. And so will I.

I don’t know how any of this makes sense. I don’t even want to begin to address the meaning of all of the present suffering– the tears, the blood, the anguish– that we (and God) have undergone. I don’t know how our present troubles will dissolve and melt into God’s overwhelming love. Yet, when despair chokes my throat as I try to say, He is alive, my knuckles will grip to the truth that in the end, all will be celebrated. All will make sense. All will be whole. I don’t know how. I don’t know when. But this I believe: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich).

The story of Easter takes a lifetime– perhaps an eternity– to understand. In the darkness, in the seeds of new life, and in the confusion of Saturday, I will walk by faith that God is making all things new, even when it is not in my timing. I will trust that Saturday, although mind-numbing and seemingly perpetual, will always be followed by Sunday.

In the meantime, I can’t pretend that I’m some strangely caffeinated, joy-filled, president-of-the-optimist-club Christian. I struggle to internalize joy and hope. I have to be real about that, while holding in tension that I believe God and will wait on Him.

So: may you cry, challenge, love, and celebrate this Easter season and beyond. May you be empowered to be honest about what you are feeling because God can hold whatever it is.

May you bask in the reality that God makes dead people live. May you cling to that promise. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clinging to Hope

As Holy Week begins, I am reminded of the words Rachel Held Evans wrote the other day on Facebook, “Perhaps it’s time to be more deliberate about clinging to hope.” I agree completely. 

It is related to a piece I wrote a while ago entitled, “But You Hope”: 

 That moment of agony when you realize that nothing in the world, none of your sedation methods will make you feel better. None of the truth you know feels real, and the world spins upside down. 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 there is nothing to be done about it. The painstaking efforts at denial do not prevent your insides from gushing out. 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 cannot cling onto anything at all. You do not know, but you hope.

It is so easy for me to cling to despair, hopelessness, and cynicism; to hold on to anger; to believe that redemption is too far away; to feel like resurrection is a distant dream. As this Easter season culminates with remembrance and celebration of God’s redemptive love, I think of the beauty, mystery, agony, and deliverance that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought to the world.  I am reminded that whenever I succumb to bitterness, hope is still springing all around me. While it may not feel like it, the current state of affairs is temporary.  

God WILL make these dead, broken, dry bones come back into life again.

God WILL cling onto me when I cannot cling to Him. 

So many things are waiting: a marriage supper with the Lamb, residence in the New Jerusalem, and most of all, the shalom of God

In the tension of the now-and-not-yet reality of the Kingdom of God, I will choose to rejoice and cling to the promise of resurrection– resurrection that has already happened and will yet happen.

Even when I can’t hold on anymore and everything within me denies this truth, I will grasp the darkness and find that God is still holding me.