Non-Christians in the U.S. can be forgiven if they imagine that the most important Christian holiday of the year is Christmas. After all, the whole culture goes sort of gift-nuts as people imitate the generous actions of the Magi in the story of Jesus' birth. (Some Christians are confused about this, too.)
But, as author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote, trust a crowd to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time.
In fact, if Christianity is to be more than a system of moral rules and good advice about the benefits of love, it rises and falls on Easter and the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Without that, the core of the faith is eviscerated.
So this Easter weekend, I want to share with you this engaging column from The New York Times. It was written by a woman who, appalled at where many Christian voters took the country in the 2016 presidential election, dropped out of her Catholic church that year.
Margaret Renkl writes that she "couldn’t forgive my fellow Christians for electing a man who exploited his employees, boasted about his sexual assaults, encouraged violence against citizens who disagreed with him, mocked the disabled and welcomed the support of virulent white supremacists. This is what Jesus meant when he told his followers to love one another?
"At church, all I could think about were the millions of people likely to lose their health insurance thanks to Catholic bishops who opposed the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. I was supposed to be thinking about the infinite love of a merciful God, but all I could hear were thousands of Christians shouting, 'Build that wall!' By the time Easter had come and gone, I was gone too."
But this Easter, she writes, she'll be back at Mass. Why? Her explanation:
"The year away from church hasn’t made me miss the place itself. I don’t miss the stained glass. I don’t miss the gleaming chalice or the glowing candles or the sweeping vestments. But I do miss being part of a congregation. I miss standing side by side with other people, our eyes gazing in the same direction, our voices murmuring the same prayers in a fallen world. I miss the wiggling babies grinning at me over their parents’ shoulders. I miss reaching for a stranger to offer the handshake of peace. I miss the singing."
If that seems a little theologically shallow, I don't blame you for thinking so. She doesn't talk about missing the Eucharist, for instance, or hearing scripture read and interpreted in a homily.
But let me suggest that I think, somewhere down deep, she knows that none of what she misses would be happening without the shocking Easter story. After all, she ends the piece by saying that after Mass on Easter she "will walk into the world and do my best to practice resurrection."
What can that possibly mean without a model for resurrection to follow? Yes, the word resurrection has some non-theological meanings ("she resurrected her singing career," for example). But what makes the Christian story so appealing to so many people is that it includes a completely unexpected resurrection and that resurrection is evidence that good already has defeated evil in the world, even if the reign of God has not yet come in full flower.
And we Christians think that surely is worth celebrating.
(The photo here today is one I took about five years ago at Lions Bay north of Vancouver, B.C. I hope it evokes for you a sense of possibility and change. And maybe even resurrection.)
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IS THE ROAD TO HELL PAVED WITH MISQUOTES?
Did Pope Francis just tell an Italian journalist that there is no hell? The journalist says yes. The Vatican says no. Here's the dilemma: Some say hell is being misquoted by a journalist while others say hell is being quoted correctly by one. I'll leave it to you to choose which happened here.