Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Holy Mystery of Easter

I’m a little naive about the secular value of Easter, especially to candy, card, and flower shops.  Holy Week is not normally a time for me to wander into stores, except when absolutely necessary.  This afternoon it was, to the local candy shop known for its chocolates hand made on site.  The place was jammed.  I was overwhelmed.  People were picking out bunnies, eggs, baskets, and, oh, as long as they were there, a few other things chosen slowly after much deliberation without the slightest bit of concern for others waiting to be served.  

I waited my turn, idly wondering if anyone else in the shop was also overwhelmed by the plethora of essays on the meaning of Easter that pile in clergy mailboxes this time of year.  Probably not.  Chocolate bunnies and eggs more or less sum up the meaning of Easter for many.  Anyway, the theme of this year’s essay crop appears to be about the mystery of Easter, and how trying to solve it deprives it of the power of mystery that’s essential to apprehending Easter without comprehending it.  I have found them appealing.

Easter needs to be illuminated on Sunday with words that guide worshipers toward the mystery in ways that invite them to consider what it means for them.  As a reasonably orthodox Christian, that meaning has constraints.  It’s not anything goes.  Easter is about resurrection, not bunnies, decorated eggs, and warm fuzzy feelings.  Moreover, resurrection is incomplete without the cross: you can’t have one without the other.  Setting the parameters is particularly important for those who seldom attend church, and know little about Christianity.  On the other hand, dedicated regulars, content with well established ways of believing bereft of surprise, need to be shaken into the disorientation of holy mystery. 

Easter sermons doing both don’t come easily.  At least mine never have.  One obstacle is that few in the pews on Easter Sunday will have invested in Holy Week time and prayer that opens the door to holy mystery.  Nor will they have participated in the hard work of Good Friday observances where the event is brutally obvious, but its meaning elusive.  Another is the abundance of bad theology decorating poorly constructed Easter pageants.  I’m not a fan of Easter pageants: the worst of them being Gibson’s 2004 “The Passion of Christ,” but I digress.

Maybe the best we can do is help Easter Sunday worshipper see the disciples as women and men who could no more easily make sense out of the resurrection than we can, even though they were Jesus’ closest companions.  They could no more anticipate what would come next than we know what tomorrow or next week will bring.  It took them the rest of their lives to fully grasp that, in the resurrection, the rabbi they had come to trust and love is fully revealed as God incarnate.  What he said and did was not just wisely instructive, it was the authoritative demonstration of what God’s commandments are, and what living into them means.  


The passion narrative from cross to resurrection is a holy mystery profoundly filled with ultimate truth.  It’s wrapped in a greater reality than any ever to be experienced in this life.  Those who apprehend it would not trade it for anything.  As St. Paul wrote, everything else is rubbish.  How can that be?  It’s a mystery.

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