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I read about a woman in New York City who was interviewed as she departed church one Sunday. A reporter asked, “What is Easter?” The woman said, “Easter is when we throw off the robes of winter.” A critic of Christianity said, “Easter is a spring ritual celebrating the ancient myths of the Mediterranean mind.”
Christians and nonchristians alike tend to join Easter with the arrival of spring. Between now and April 1, we will see countless pointers to new blooms, the end of winter’s grayness, and the reemergence of green in our yards. Spring is our dominant metaphor for Easter.
I want to raise the question: is spring an appropriate analogy for Easter? Perhaps not. I came to this conclusion several years ago when I traveled to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. One of the things that I really wanted to see while there was the Southern Cross, that constellation that can only be viewed south of the equator. One night in Kenya, I asked a resident of the country to help me find it in the night sky. There it was.
That experience started me thinking about the differences in the hemispheres. I paid attention in social studies as a child, so I knew the seasons are opposite. I wondered, “What do they do about Easter down here, when nothing is blooming and everything is dying?” How do have Easter if you can’t point to green grass, flowers in bloom, or the death of winter passing away? How do you celebrate Easter south of the equator, without the metaphor of spring? I goggled sermons in every English-speaking country south of the equator that I could think of. I discovered they do quite well without spring.
A couple of years later, I found these statements by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Mediations on the Cross:
Good Friday is not about the darkness that necessarily must give way to light. Nor is it the winter sleep or hibernation that stores and nurtures the germ of life. Rather, it is the day when the incarnate God, incarnate love, is killed by human beings who want to become gods themselves. It is the day when the holy One of God, that is, God himself, dies, really dies—of his own will and yet as a result of human guilt. p. 71
Easter does not celebrate a struggle between darkness and light….It does not celebrate a struggle between winter and spring, between ice and sunshine. Rather, it remembers the struggle of guilty humankind against divine love, or better: of divine love against guilty humankind. p. 70-71
In the beginning chapters of Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul is speaks to the Corinthians about earthly wisdom, worldly wisdom, and how there is nothing in it that would make you think about how God saves us. Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, not with words of human wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
Skip ahead to chapter 2 and we read, “And the things we speak of, we were not taught by human wisdom, but we were taught by the spirit who expressed spiritual truths and spiritual words.” His point is you could look at spring all your life and never come up with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. The cross is foolishness.
Too often we ask nature to do our preaching for us. We ask questions such as, “How could you look at the beauty of spring and not believe in God?” As if that experience tells all a person needs to know about God and Christ. Can we look at blooming azaleas and deduce, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Is there anything in a dogwood that says, “Love your enemy”? Is there anything in grass turning green that says, “If you would be my disciple, deny yourself and pick up your cross daily and follow me”? In all of nature is there anything that says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, and his son came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”?
We need to remember that Easter is not simply a time of general renewal but this is a time when we come to worship because Christ has redeemed us by his cross — and the last enemy has been destroyed.
I hate to jump ahead of Holy Week, but for those preparing early for Easter, here are some quotations on the resurrection. Check the Archives for quotes on the cross and atonement, which may be helpful for Holy Week.
From N.T. Wright in Simply Christian:
Resurrection was something which, in Jewish s people at the very end, not to one person in the middle of history. p. 107
This is the launch pad for the specifically Christian way of life. That way of life isn’t simply a matter of getting in touch with your inner depths. It is certainly not about keeping the commands of the distant deity. Rather, it is the new way of being human, and the Jesus-shaped way of being human, the cross and resurrection way of life, the spirit led pathway. It is the way which anticipates, in the present, the full, rich, glad human existence, which will one day be ours when God makes all things new. p. 222
Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith and Jewel Lake Goldsmith, in Speaking of Dying:
The gospel in its essence is surely the story of God’s goodness the creation of all that is the loving and redemptive action of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise that finally God will transform all that is into a final incomprehensibly wonderful new creation. p. 26
The popular cultural tendency is to believe in a kind of guaranteed and automatic immortality. That is not the Christian understanding. Christians take death very seriously and have since a time of Jesus., when any idea of the resurrection of the dead was a far off hope. The resurrection of Jesus was an astonishing event. It did not install a regime of immortality Web Site. The rather was only the first of the new creation, one in which God would raise the dead. There is nothing in humans that automatically survives death. There is only the power and grace of God that showed his love overcame death. The hope for in it in eight immortality can lead to a trivialization of death. Christians are aware of the seriousness and threat of physical death. Instead of hoping there is some seed of immortality within themselves that would guarantee a safe passage to a better place, the Christian throws all his or her hopes on to God, whose power created all there is in whose power can be trusted to raise again all that which dies. p. 126
Luke Timothy Johnson in The Creed,
A careful reading of the entire new Testament suggests that the resurrection experience involved both Jesus and his followers, took place not only on the single day later known as Easter but continuously, and consisted of the presence of the risen Jesus among his followers through the Holy Spirit. p. 12
The truth of the resurrection is not simply that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but that he now shares the life and power of God. p. 178
T. W. Manson in The Servant Messiah. Cambridge: University Press, 1961:
The Resurrection means above all just this, that Christians do not inherit their task from Christ, they share it with him. We are not the successors of Jesus, but his companions. (emphasis original), p. 98
C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with ever fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” p. 190 (Final paragraph in the book)