Easter and I have a complicated relationship.
I understand that Easter the central holiday because it commemorates the single most important decision that makes the Christian faith what it is, I still just don’t understand the holiday.
I understand what it means, what I’m supposed to wear, and what I’m supposed to say. I mean, I grew up in church, I can play this game if I need to. But yet, it still feels hollow.
“O death, where is your sting?”
I suppose, just like two years ago, I still don’t understand the death section of Easter. How does this holiday that makes all churches abuzz with white flowers and high heels have to do with impacting how I interact with death? What does it mean beyond a nice phrase I can say to someone after a family member dies?
Death does have a sting. Over the last five years I’ve come face-to-face with this horrifying thing called death that will claim me, my husband, my parents, my sister, and everyone else I will ever know or love. How do people continue on in the face of that? How can we stand to get close to people? Why don’t we all just quit?
What I don’t understand about Easter is how this holiday is any different from any others. We get up a little earlier? Give Easter baskets? Repeat the same three phrases all day and flood Facebook with Easter statuses?
I mean no disrespect to the story. I am not questioning the events or the story. What I am questioning is our interpretation of it and our practice of it.
I’m probably going to wrestle with this same question for several years to come. Am I questioning it because I think I’m hip? No. It’s because these are real questions I have to deal with and I hate it. I wish I could present you with a cheery, faith-y blog post. But I can’t, because then I’m not being true to myself, true to others who might share my feelings, and no one will be is learning anything.
These big questions weren’t answered—or were answered too simplistically—as a child, and now as an adult I have to bother asking the hard questions all over again. (This might just be a symptom of coming of age.)
I realize I can’t be the kind of person that ignores faith until they get all the answers. At the same time, I’m too old to accept simple, empty answers. I need to know exactly how this story affects my mortality. I’m not sure how I’m this old, have lived through this many Easter services, and when the music stops with only one chair, I still leave the sanctuary feeling awkward, like I missed a great movie that all of my friends saw.
The only thing this holiday has meant in the past is: plastic Easter eggs, new dresses, and the yearly cantata, sometimes a brunch and an early “Son Rise” service that particularly good congregants went to.
While Christmas is a very practice-oriented holiday, at least you can unpack the holiday and explore the beauty of giving.
Pete Mannering, the pastor at the church we’ve been attending said something interesting this morning in the service that may have unlocked the meaning of Easter in terms that I could understand. He said that possums will not go into holes with only one set of tracks going into them because they know that there is most likely danger inside. However, if there are two sets of tracks, the possum will enter and go in without fear.
He said that the grave is like the tunnel. Christ had one set going into the grave, but on Easter morning, there was a set of tracks going back out.
There are so many times when I look back at stuff people have said to me and I think “Oh, that’s what they meant!” Because ultimately, the story Pete shared is about not fearing death. However, the way he explained it to us was different. Because when I would hear the traditional “We don’t have to fear death!” response to my question, my first thought was, “That’s cool, BUT I’M STILL AFRAID TO GET SICK OR TORTURED AND DIE. Doesn’t help me! I’m glad it helps you.”
For me, the possum analogy translates into not so much that we don’t have to be afraid of death (the end of the journey) but that we don’t have to be afraid of the journey itself. Easter is a holiday about the dawn of spring, fertility and new life, and new possibilities that wait on the horizon. Christ has the set of tracks down the tunnel of life and has tracks on the way out of the tunnel, so I don’t have to fear it anymore.
I can travel the path of adulthood, love, possible future parenthood, education, travel, careers, and it’s not just one giant death trap doomed to eat me alive and make me miserable; it’s this beautiful experience that I get to be a part of.
It reminds me of when my sister and I went to Kennywood, a coaster park in Pennsylvania, with our grandmother. The park is rather old and so a few of the coasters are still wooden. (Which I weirdly appreciate.) There was the baby coaster which my sister and I rode several times each trip, but then someone got the brilliant idea to put us on the roller coaster called The Jack Rabbit. It was mostly straight with a series of huge hills and drops.
My sister and I got on the coaster and as we discovered as we were shooting down the first hill was that our seatbelts were too loose and my sister was almost too short for the ride. It is still one of our most terrifying experiences that we’ve been through.
So, in a way, life is The Jack Rabbit, and the Resurrection is the seatbelt (except that it’s properly tightened and attached). I probably could have enjoyed the experience all those years ago if I hadn’t been fearing for my life.
Now, this doesn’t allow me to get comfortable or insulate me from trouble. What it does do is give me the knowledge that I don’t have to miss the beauty of the journey because I’m so terrified that I can’t focus or accomplish anything.
As I heard this analogy this morning, I need to chew on it some more, but if that’s the meaning of Easter… I think that makes sense. I can learn to appreciate Easter with that understanding. That idea is very significant to me as I tend to get caught up in the feelings of “OMG, how do you do this life thing, again? Can someone remind me?”
So, here’s to possums and a new understanding of Easter!
Photo credit: Flickr / JoshBerglund19