I know this is late.
I know there was darkness.
I know there was light.
I know the earth shook and the graves gave up their dead.
I know bread tore and wine spilled.
And I'm late.
Easter has come and gone. There’s some variance on when the Easter season actually begins. For many, it begins with Ash Wednesday. For others, it’s the “post Spring Break” holiday. For others, it begins immediately after Valentine’s Day. But the greater speculation for most is how to observe Easter: with sobriety and reflection or celebration and song, with rabbits that lay eggs or crucifixes and empty tombs.
There's just so much that happened in those three or four days.
On Palm Sunday came celebration and a conqueror's entrance.
Only days later came a night robed in Sin and Death.
Only days later came a slaughter of innocent. We call it a good Friday.
Only days later came the most inexplicable miracle the world has ever known.
O Sin, where is your victory?
O Death, where is your sting?
Easter, the strange holiday that’s as difficult to grapple as the events it recollects. Christmas, most of us can wrap our hands around. Despite Christmas’ own distractions and complaints, most perceive the season of lights as “the season of hope.” In a way, they’re right. Christmas, though, is about a birth, the beginning of something new.
Easter, however, is a holy day people are much more easily distracted from. For myself, I remember starkly a conversation with my mother at least a decade ago. I told her Christmas was my favorite holiday, I don't remember why. Christmas was the 'fun' holiday: Presents, food, parties, pretty decorations, wonder and magic and splendor.
I'll never forget my mom's reply: "Mine's Easter. Anyone can be born. Not anyone can come back from the dead."
I think that's when my perspective started to change, maybe. For me, Easter just wasn't as 'fun.' I understood it, that wasn't the problem.
In high school, our church started holding a Tenebrae service. It's an evening service, and it takes place on Good Friday. We had our own spin on the traditional service: candles, dancers, singers, musicians, sketches, reader's theater. Tenebrae means "Darkening" and takes you through all the events up through Jesus' death. It's beautiful and there's no way I'd ever describe it in just form.
It's a time of remembering. A time of mourning. A time of dark hope, if you will. A time where the disciples of Jesus dare to hope despite the odds.
It ends in the dark, with the Christ candle going out. That candle will not be relit until Sunday morning. You leave in the dark with the last words lingering in your head and The Lord's Supper in your stomach.
"It is finished."
"Then Jesus bowed his head and died."
I want to say that's how my childhood perspective on Easter changed. Christmas isn't the culmination of hope. It's just the birth pangs. Real hope came roughly thirty years later, suspended on an accursed tree and hidden in a borrowed tomb.
On Christmas, the world held its breath as the God of the universe cried like a baby, because a baby he had become. Magicians and peasants bestowed him with gifts, and a bright star blazed in the heavens. The warriors of heaven broke out in delight, eager to proclaim the day of the Lord's favor upon men.
But Easter isn’t about a birth, as if a virgin birthing the God who made her isn’t mysterious enough, it’s about death and rebirth—new life. On Easter, the world wasn’t holding its breath; it was screaming at the top of its lungs for its God to die, perishing and condemning the only person who could save it at the same time. It’s treason and blasphemy, rigged trials and divine appointment. It’s cowardice and courage, love and hate. It’s the day the world ended, and the day something new began.
The angels kept quiet--Can you imagine that? The same creatures so rapturous to declare his entrance now stare in shock at his exit; the same who ensured his safety as a child now had to watch him die. I doubt he told them the ending.
See, I don't think Jesus ever would have had to call down a legion of angels. I think he was the only thing between twenty legions of angels and a legion of Romans.
There’s this strange idea that Christianity was born in a vacuum. And I think as a kid that's where Easter fell for me. But the whole point of remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is to never forget that these things aren’t myths and wishful thinking, idealism and false hope. This is the day the God of the universe saved the world and destroyed Death itself. This is redemption.