Easter tends to sneak up on us. This Easter reflection almost did not get printed on time due to the fact that its author misjudged how quick it would need to be submitted. The pastors I meet with in our Llano ministerial alliance shared a similar sentiment when we met at the end of March – Easter snuck up on all of us! I think this happens for a couple of reasons: 1) Easter is never on the same exact date; 2) it is less of a cultural holiday than Christmas.
Santa vs. The Easter Bunny
I have two young children, a 9-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. My family does NOT get a pass from having to at least nod at the cultural side of the Church’s high, holy days. While I could forbid their celebration, I find my kids can have fun playing the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause games, while also grasping the greater significance of what we celebrate. We are honest with them about the fairy-tale nature of these lesser elements, and stress the biblical importance of what the Church has historically emphasized during these holidays. That being said, my kids prefer the cultural version of Christmas over the cultural version of Easter. Playing Santa involves more anticipation, a wider variety of gifts, and more time away from school than the Easter Bunny schtick. Whether we realize it or not, this is the biggest reason that Easter sneaks up on us.
Christ and Culture
While pastors like to think of ourselves as more spiritual than others, even we fall prey to what Richard Niebuhr referred to as “Christ of Culture” in his classic Christ and Culture. We allow the way society responds to our faith to shape our views and practice as followers of Jesus. This is very unlike Jesus, himself. Rather than “going-along-to-get-along” when the Pharisees accused him of doing things like violating the Sabbath and their other cultural traditions they had built up around the Law, Jesus responded by saying “woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matt 23:27). In Niebuhr’s paradigm, they expected Jesus to fit the religious expression of their culture that had been shaped more by the whims and desires of people, than the heart of God. As the Church celebrates and looks to the implications of the resurrection during this time of year, don’t let its affect and claim on your life sneak past simply because chocolate bunnies and colored eggs are less appealing and nostalgic than “White Christmas[es]” and gifts under a tree.
Christ Transforming Culture
Rather than embodying the “Christ of Culture” model, Niebuhr points to another that I find more biblical and appropriate for how we might respond to our culture’s “Hallmarking” of our Christian calendar: “Christ Transforming Culture.” This model focuses less on the action of God before our current time (what Easter has been), or life with God after our current time (the implications of what Easter might produce), and more on the presence of God IN time (how God is using the Easter story as we give attention to it in our current time and place). At its core, the resurrection is arresting – it changes everything. The empty tomb doesn’t care how culture has appropriated Easter, it cares about how the message of Easter can change you and me. The invitation for change comes when the resurrection is the starting point for our faith. In Surprised by Hope, NT Wright says that “Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven, but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about.”
My favorite account of the resurrection comes from the traditional ending of Mark’s Gospel (16:1-8). Scholars agree that the verses following are stylistically different, and likely added on by a scribe who was troubled by Mark’s sudden conclusion. Following the faithful women’s visit to the empty tomb and their encounter with the angel, Mark writes that “trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (16:8). This is hardly the ending that we hope for, as followers of Jesus. Furthermore, based on the eventual spread of our faith, we know the story is incomplete. And that is exactly Mark’s point: in spite of how their culture would characterize Jesus’ resurrection (a stolen body, hallucination, etc.), the women were faced with acting on what they experienced. And so are we.
If Jesus’ resurrection does not prompt you to act TODAY, it ceases to be a living, breathing faith. The resurrection is your invitation to “colonize earth with the life of heaven.” How are you responding to this invitation in the present?