Saturday, April 7, 2012

making sense of Easter

We're all at various stages of trying to make sense of Easter.

Last night was pretty rough on Easton, poor kid. We attended a Good Friday service, and warned Easton (age 3) ahead of time that we were going to church to help us remember when Jesus died for us on the cross. Before he even got to his class he was crying, so we let him sit with us in the service. But the somber tone of the service was too much for him. He just curled up in my lap and sobbed. "I don't like Jesus dying on the cross," he kept saying. "I don't want Jesus to die." He and I spent much of the service in the lobby. Between his bouts with tears I explained more about Jesus' death and why it was sad but good for all of us. He listened intently to Pastor Ray's message through the speakers and picked out words that he could understand (blood, death, shepherd, etc). He told me, "The Lord is my shepherd." But he refused to accept the idea that God planned Jesus' death. He simply likes Jesus too much to be okay with his death. And of all the hundreds of people who were at the service, I'm guessing no one had a clearer picture than he did of the most sorrowful and mysterious day in human history.

Emma and I went on a picnic date to her school playground this morning. We had imagined that it would be cool and quiet, sunny and breezy. What we didn't imagine was a city "Easter" event in the park next door, complete with costumed characters, loud music, and crowds pushing strollers. Emma (age 6) was disappointed not to be able to hear the birds singing, and she confessed to me that she did not like the music because it wasn't worship music (I was inclined to agree ... Madonna's 'Material Girl' was not my idea of Easter music). Later this evening on our way to church (where an Easter Egg hunt was planned for the kids) Emma was still trying to make sense of the way our culture celebrates Easter. Her musings went something like this: "Easter has nothing to do with bunnies or eggs, but eggs are a little like Jesus, because he went off by himself in the garden to pray. Not many people knew about it. He hid away just like the eggs." A valiant effort, I'd say! I'm afraid I can't think of a better way to connect the two, unless we want to talk about eggs as a sign of fertility . . . and God's promises of a lush new creation (?!).

And what does Easter look like from an 11-year-old's vantage point? The kids visited Awana (a kids Bible club) on Wednesday evening, and Eliana came back jazzed about the message the leader gave about the atonement. "It was so deep," she told us. "I mean, I didn't agree with everything he said, but he really made me think." She's so ready for a challenge, and has great theological questions.

Don't we all? Wherever we are in our spiritual journeys, each of us is trying to make sense of Jesus at some level. How can he be both man and God? If he's God, then why does he still need to pray? Was his death inevitable? Did he really rise from the dead? Pastor Ray's message this evening went straight to the heart of the matter. "All of us have doubts at some level," he said. "But salvation doesn't come to us when we finally understand it all. Salvation comes when we grab hold of him." You may doubt whether he can hold you, but you won't know if he can until you throw yourself into his arms.

Christianity doesn't claim to resolve all mysteries on this side of eternity. To some extent, we all need to embrace the mystery, not because Christianity lacks historical reality or absolute truth, but because our ability to assimilate that truth will never be complete in this life.

Faith and mystery—together—drive my study of Scripture. To use the age-old dictum, its a journey of "faith seeking understanding." Following Jesus requires our whole selves, including our minds. God is glorified through the time we spend thinking, pondering, and studying his revealed Word, pressing in for more understanding. But we need not suspend our faith until understanding comes. I believe that God has revealed himself to us in his Word. I believe there is no greater good than knowing Him. I believe He is worthy of my trust and my praise. I believe that Jesus was sent from the Father, lived, died, and rose again. Do I understand how it all works? Not yet. Maybe never in this life. But I keep pressing on to know this great Love. I hope you'll experience his Love for you this Easter and press on to know him more. Embrace the mystery. Throw yourself in his arms.


  1. Hi Carmen,

    I came across your blog through a Multnomah connection. You were my Bible Study Methods Lab Instructor around 2000. Just last night, my husband and I were discussing Philemon, so I pulled out my project from that class, and we read my research and your comments. It was really encouraging.

    I really appreciate what you shared about Easter and the mystery that is bound up in our faith. What a blessing and encouragement!!
    Becky (Wanamaker) Paul

  2. Becky!
    How fun to hear from you! I've often thought about you and wondered where you ended up. Thanks so much for your note. I checked out your blog, and it looks like you're knee deep in adventures in Alaska! Fun. Thanks for your encouraging note. It meant a lot.
    Blessings to both of you,

  3. Alec asked me what the Easter Bunny and eggs have to do with Jesus? I told him that spring is when baby animals (bunnies and chicks)are born, flowers bloom, and the world comes "back to life" after winter. I explained that we use these symbols of new life to celebrate the Resurrection. Maybe that would help Emma too?

  4. Selah,

    That explanation works pretty well, especially for small kids. It doesn't answer the tougher question of why these symbols arose in the first place (that Alec may ask later).

    I'm pretty sure (without researching it now) that Easter converged with a pagan fertility celebration on the calendar coinciding with the start of spring and the two came to be associated together. In the ancient world fertility was the most important key to survival and the most important thing for which people needed help from the gods. Bunnies (one of the fastest multiplying animals) and eggs (symbol of new life) make sense as symbols of fertility.

    The Israelites were strictly warned not to seek fertility from anyone but Yahweh, their God. He was the one who would grant them grain, new wine, oil, and children. If they acknowledged that these blessings came from him and lived according to his covenant, teaching their children the fear of Yahweh, the covenant blessings would continue to the next generation. But if they forgot that the blessings came from him, and attributed them to themselves, or to other nations or other gods, then he would have remove the blessings in order to remind the people that they could not control their own fertility. This is all clear from the first dozen chapters of Deuteronomy.

    So... bunnies and eggs could be part of our Easter celebration as a way of reminding ourselves that all life and all blessings come from God. He supplies our needs, both physical and spiritual (through Jesus' death and resurrection), and deserves our praise. The new life we see in spring reminds us of his providential care.

    This explanation takes into account the historical origins of the holiday and its symbols and uses them to reinforce biblical teaching. We talked about it around the table on Sunday and the girls seemed to understand. I LOVE it that our kids are asking these kinds of questions!