Merry Easter?

This week, a reflection on Easter by Frederica Mathewes-Green:

It’s that time of year again, when school children are coloring pictures of Jesus hanging from a cross, and shop-owners fill their windows with gaily colored cutouts of the Flogging at the Pillar. In the malls everyone’s humming along with seasonal hits on the sound system, like “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” (did you hear the Chipmunks’ version?). Car dealers are promoting Great Big Empty-Tomb Size discounts on Toyotas.

Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Easter. Who hasn’t been invited to an “In His Steps” party, where players move plastic pieces around a board emblazoned with a map of Jesus’ last suffering day in Jerusalem?

Not me, for one. Somehow we just don’t make the same boisterous fun of Holy Week that we do of Christmas. No one plans to have a holly jolly Easter.

Easter just isn’t fun in the same way Christmas is, a type of fun that could be better described as styled for children. It’s a commonplace to say that “Christmas is for children,” but what about Easter? Is it for children, too?

It sure didn’t seem so to me, back then. Compared to Christmas, Easter was boring. Chocolate bunnies: good. Scratchy new crinolines: bad. Long blah-blah-blah at church. A lot of wordy grownup buildup leading to, it seemed, no payoff. You could always count on Christmas to change a lot of stuff, especially in the toybox. Easter didn’t change anything.

But when you think about the astonishing claims Christians make for Easter, that neglect seems pretty strange, even to an outsider. My friend Mitch is Jewish, but his encounters with suffering during medical training led him to doubt whether there even is a God. Yet last Christmas he sent me this note:

“Looking at the Christmas thing from a man raised in a Jewish home, the big celebration in Christianity should be Easter. No Easter, no Christianity. So all the focus on Christmas, at least to me, is misdirected.

“Why Christians don’t whoop it up more at Easter is a mystery to me. How inspirational! How joyful! That is the time to toast each other, lay on gifts, attend worship services, pack in the rich food. Something really substantial and holy to remember.”

No Easter, no Christianity. Mitch has a point. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, who cares whether he was born in a manger or a 7-11? If he didn’t rise from the dead, Christmas is meaningless too.

~from Frederica Mathewes-Green, “Merry Easter?”, in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, Orbis Books, New York, 2003, pp 266-8. 

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