Sunday, March 23, 2008

An Easter Sunday Reflection

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
March 23, 2008

By calling, or vocation, I am a Protestant pastor who just happens to write a weekly op-ed column. I try not to preach here; instead I try to wrestle with broader public issues from a faith perspective. I will admit that some columns are more “religious” than others, but I'm quite aware that this column isn't found on the religion page. Instead, it's on the Sunday op-ed page, which means the expectations are a bit different. Having said that, I'm going to make an exception today - oh don't worry, I'm not planning on sneaking in a sermon. Because today is Easter Sunday (at least for Western Christians - the Eastern Church follows a different calendar), I'd like to offer a spiritual reflection on the day.

Easter is, for Christians, one of the holiest and most joyous days of the year. There is, of course, another Easter, the public holiday, which is about egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and brunch. That holiday is more of a rite of spring than a religious observance.

Like some of the Christmas observances, this Easter has pre-Christian origins. The name of the celebration comes from a Germanic goddess, whose festival came at the Spring Equinox. Like many Christian holidays it shares a history and observances. And so, we're free to pick and choose how and what we celebrate.
While I enjoy many of the aspects of the public holiday, it is the spiritual part that I choose to focus on here. Even more than Christmas, Easter is a definitive moment of Christian life. Indeed, Easter was central to the Christian faith long before Christmas was a major celebration. In many ways, Easter defines the Christian faith, for without it our faith would be limited to following in the ways of one who had died a horrible death. In the doctrine of the Resurrection, the central point of Easter, we are told that death doesn't have the final word. Whether you take the doctrine as a literal physical event in history or more spiritually, perhaps as a metaphor for God's vindication of Jesus' message, the point is that life has victory over death.
Christians aren't of one mind when it comes to the “hows” and the “whats” of the Resurrection, but we do understand, from conservative to liberal, that the resurrection is central. It is something we must address. But it's not just a doctrine to believe; it's, more importantly, something to be lived.
The Easter story is deeply rooted in the Jewish Passover. If we in the Western church followed the same calendar as Judaism, our two observances would coincide. The Passover, with its message of liberation and freedom from slavery, helps define the message of Holy Week. Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) remembers a last supper and an encounter in a garden. Good Friday takes us to the cross, where we watch as Jesus is executed because he is deemed a threat to the state. Dead and buried, the creeds tell us, he is raised on the Third Day in glory, God having vindicated him and his message of grace, love, nonviolence, justice, and peace. In the Resurrection death is put aside and life is embraced.
Holy Week has distinctly political overtones. Jesus died a politically defined death and Easter overturns the verdict. Those who choose to follow him are invited to take up the cross and live unselfishly in service to him and his cause. But we're not just called to a life of sacrifice; we are also called to embrace the fullness of life, to live life with joy and celebration.

If you are so inclined, won't you join me in celebrating the message of Easter: Life has triumphed over death, violence doesn't reign supreme, and life is something to be treasured and celebrated. In the words of the 8th century theologian John of Damascus, may we sing:
Now let the heavens be joyful! Let earth its song begin!
The world resound in triumph, and all that is therein;
Let all things seen and unseen, their notes of gladness bend;
For Christ the Lord has risen, our joy that has no end.
This is my joy as I celebrate Easter. I share it with you in the hope that life and peace might be ours as human beings.

Dr. Bob Cornwall is Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc (http://www.lompocdisciples.org). He blogs at http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com and may be contacted at faithinthepublicsquare@gmail.com or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.

March 23, 2008