I thought I was doing well in the run-up to Easter. I managed to avoid the flyers from Target urging me to buy the children Christmas-level gifts. I rolled my eyes at the picture of Jesus that showed up in my Facebook feed, instructing me to “Like if you believe I’ll come back from the dead.” I resisted the urge to create an Easter board on Pinterest, and I didn’t do any Easter crafts (my feelings about religious Easter crafts can pretty much be summed up by this post on some fresh hell called “Resurrection Rolls”).
It was a simple advertisement e-mail that put me over the edge.
THIS WEEKEND ONLY, it screamed, SPRING BLACK FRIDAY.
Whaaaaaaaat?! Spring Black Friday? Are you kidding me?
Easter, it turns out, has become kind of insufferable.
As I sat in church on Sunday, watching family after family sneak out early (presumably to attend to Easter luncheon preparations), I tried to work out why this bothers me so much. After all, 99% of the religious symbolism has been sucked out of Christmas – why should Easter’s secularization irritate me?
1. There is a fundamental difference between Christmas and Easter.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. While Christians believe that Jesus’ conception was miraculous, there is nothing to suggest that the belief in Jesus’ birth requires any leap of faith. The only miracle is that neither mother nor baby died of sepsis, considering the whole birth-in-a-stable thing.
Scholars and historians have come to the consensus that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person. Islam considers him a great prophet, and while neither it nor Judiasm accept Jesus as the Messiah, both acknowledge his existence. His message of love, kindness, and compassion is appealing to broad swaths of humanity, regardless of whether you believe in his divinity or resurrection. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is not a terrible idea. And it’s not unheard-of to have holidays for other great people – Martin Luther King, Jr. day comes to mind.
On the other hand, Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, in fulfillment of the prophecies and for the salvation of the world. This is radically different from a birthday party. In order to celebrate Easter, you must believe very specific things – that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah; that he was crucified and was no-kidding dead, and that after three days he came back – not like a zombie, but as himself. No other faith believes these things, no other faith celebrates these things. It’s what makes us Christians. It’s kind of a big deal.
2. Christmas church doesn’t interfere with Christmas celebrations.
Most Christians, even “Christmas-and-Easter” Christians, attend church on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. The church part is kept separate from the secular part, unless Christmas Day happens to fall on Sunday (egad).
Not so with Easter. As I watched people furtively file out after the sermon on Sunday to attend to meal preparations, I became quite sad. The church part is THE WHOLE POINT.
3. It’s not necessarily a HAPPY occasion.
Birthday parties are fun. Giving gifts is fun. Christmas is fun. Everyone loves the safe delivery of a baby. Yeay babies!
Easter? Not so much with the fun. While the empty tomb is certainly cause for celebration, it’s a solemn celebration – because if the empty tomb Means What We Think It Means, it changes everything. The days leading up to Easter are mired in death and despair several orders of magnitude greater than “no room in the inn.” The light of Easter morning shines so brightly is because it stands in contrast to the darkness of the previous week.
4. So what?
I am not immune to the powers of popular culture, and I’m not proposing that my family renounce the secular side of Easter. Two years ago, Tyler spent Easter with his father. He called me in tears on Easter Sunday, because “the Easter Bunny forgot about me.” Tyler left his basket out on Saturday night; his father left it empty (and never explained why). My heart broke for Tyler – I told him that his things may have been delivered to the wrong address (we’d recently moved) and that I would figure out what happened. I hung up with him and drove to the store to paw through the now-on-clearance Easter candy, desperate to make my son feel less unloved.
The myth of the magic bunny is strong.
I decided to try a small compromise.
This year Jason and I decided to have Easter dinner on Saturday night instead of Sunday. I guess my thought process was that Saturday night would have been when a good meal and good fellowship would be most needed. It was wonderful – we were able to relax and enjoy preparing the meal. Church did not feel like an interruption or a scheduling hurdle; rather, it was something to look forward to the next day.
The children left their baskets out on Saturday night, but they were small baskets. And on Sunday morning they were
filled with a few treats. No toys. No clothes. No electronics. After breakfast, we got dressed, took some pictures in the front yard, and went to church. I was able to listen, to be present, without distraction. And I enjoyed it.