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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Almost Lover

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As a girl, I never fantasized about my wedding because I believed I would never have one: because at my core, I was unlovable. After years of “binge dating” and a string of semi-serious relationships as a young adult, I found that no guy was ever good enough. Little things would bother me after a while, and I would shut myself away and go back to being alone.

On a string of platonic, unmemorable dates from guys I met online, I agreed to go out with a guy whose first email to me included the subject line, “I also like cheese.” I thought it was funny. (However, the enigma remains: why I would put the fact that I like cheese on my dating site profile? Whatever). I decided he was worth a coffee date because let’s be honest, cheese is pretty great. So on a Saturday afternoon in May two years ago, I met up with this guy, my expectations way low.

I knew there was something special about Boy on our first date. We had crazy chemistry that words could not describe. Things happened fast. Before I knew it, Colbie Caillat songs became my Spotify staples. I fell hard, and I fell fast.

I am not a spontaneous person. I am more of a “let’s plan everything 6 months in advance” type of person. But with Boy, things were different. I didn’t cling to my 10 PM bedtime. In fact, we stayed out all hours of the night. We kissed in the rain and in restaurants… and well, everywhere. We were infatuated and passionate, in the most cliche, characteristic sense of the word.

This is not me, I kept thinking. I don’t fall for people like this. I’m not this person.

I was not “that person” who would grab my boyfriend’s hand and giggle like a 13-year-old at his jokes.

But with Boy, I was that person. I was that happy, touchy, worry-free blushing girl. I would have dropped everything and gone somewhere with him. I was head over heels, mad, drunk in love. It was “that can’t eat, can’t sleep, reach for the stars, over the fence, world series kind of love.”

thatcanteatcantsleepreachforthestarsoverthefenceworldserieskindoflove

By our second date, I had no doubts that I would end up marrying Boy. I let him into all crevices of my being, and I thought he was letting me into his as well.

Due to childhood Disney indoctrination, I knew how this story was supposed to go. Boy and Girl meet. Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy and Girl face difficult circumstances, but they persevere because they are so in love. Boy and Girl live happily ever after.

But this Boy and this Girl did not live happily ever after.

In the same whirlwind that started our romance, the relationship I had with Boy ended suddenly and painfully. I was left reeling with the vacancy of passion and love that had become a welcome refuge.

I didn’t know how much I wanted love until I had it. Then when it was gone, I didn’t know how much I would miss it. Or how much it would physically hurt to have this relationship die. There was a void in my heart. I wanted love. I wanted him… or did I? I didn’t know what I wanted anymore.

I wrote this about a year ago:

“Boy came into my life, and he changed my world upside down. I loved him for a short time, but I loved hard. Is it better to have loved and lost, as the old saying goes, or is it better not to get a taste of this really good, beautiful thing because of the yearning that follows?”

When things ended with Boy, I wondered: Maybe that is it. Maybe this is my shot and happiness and love, and it’s over now. Perhaps I’ll never love again. We are never guaranteed love. I went on dates with other guys, but they were mindless and disappointing.

I never stopped thinking about Boy. I sent him drunk texts at weddings. I saw the beauty of the waves crashing on the Pacific Coast Highway and told him I still wanted him. Once I even texted him in the bathroom during a bad date.

And yet the stars didn’t align for us.

But the stars did align, two years later, and Boy came back into my life.

I thought we were more seasoned and mature. We talked about feelings and dreams and hopes and wishes. We set boundaries, and I thought the old issues that broke us apart would make us stronger.

I looked into his eyes, and I wondered: Is this it? How does someone know if a person is “The One”? Would our relationship be doomed because of the past?

As it turns out, the love that came back from the dead didn’t stay alive. Soon enough, our old issues resurfaced, and instead of reading the writing on the wall, I chose to ignore it and make new memories.

I wanted it to work. I fully invested in the relationship and embraced the unknown. But then, in a series of events that I cannot recount for boundaries and privacy, it was no longer healthy for either of us to remain in the relationship.

If I’m being honest, I feel like such an idiot.

Why didn’t I learn from my past mistakes? Why would I have put myself out there… again… with the same person… and expect different results?

And yet, I couldn’t have done it another way.

Love is not guaranteed, and sometimes love hurts and dies. But I know, deep down, that the struggle for love is innately human and the most worthwhile goal in life. Even though my self-protective side screams for me to be alone and safe, I know I must keep pursuing what I’ve always wanted: love.

I needed to know (again… and again… and again) what could have been, and now, I must move on with my life.

My inner voice tells me, Nobody could ever love you, not like this. You’re too messed up, and you ruined your one chance of love.

But then there is a part of me that wonders…

Maybe there will be fireworks again, and this time it will last.

Maybe someone will be able to say, “I want you and I choose you every day, and I will do that for the rest of our lives.

Maybe someone will love me with all of my faults and think, “How can I best express love to this girl?”

As I read in an article earlier this week: “If you must want; wait to be chosen every day, wait to be reminded that you are special, wait to be loved in the way that you constantly love, wait to be taken seriously and wait for someone who doesn’t keep you waiting, because you know that you deserve better than waiting around for someone to make up their mind.”

I was struck to the core with grief, but I’m also realistic enough to know when something shouldn’t be.

So in the words of a favorite song:

Goodbye, my almost lover
Goodbye, my hopeless dream
I’m trying not to think about you
Can’t you just let me be?
So long, my luckless romance
My back is turned on you
I should’ve known you’d bring me heartache
Almost lovers always do