In his latest book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, Eric Metaxas recounts a story of his family’s Greek Orthodox tradition of welcoming Easter morning with a ceremony of darkness, light, candles, and expectation. Reading his description moved me. It is not a tradition that I am familiar with, but its truth speaks in a language I have understood since I was a child. It is a beautiful, poetic ritual pointing to the Great Light that rose from the dead on that first Easter morning.
Next Saturday, my church will celebrate Easter by hosting an egg hunt, games, free food, and a brief explanation to our visitors as to why we gather on a weekend morning to do all those things. The Gospel will be shared that morning, hopefully with many who have never accepted Easter as anything more than bunny rabbits, eggs, and food. We will do our part that morning to provide a glimpse of the true story at the center of the Easter celebration.
Family traditions. Egg hunts. Rituals. Good Friday services. Easter lunches. Sunrise services. These things, a blend of sacred and secular, make up a good deal of how most of us will spend Easter weekend. The holy, Scripture-inspired traditions will walk hand in hand with the earthy, silly, and seemingly insignificant. What value do these traditions and customs and rituals possess? Should egg hunts and sunrise services coexist on a church calendar? Should Easter lunches and Good Friday communion cohabitate in the lives of believers? Yes and no. Or perhaps better said, yes, in the right manner. While the church’s easy absorption of mostly harmless, yet potentially distracting activities has ever been a point of contention and conversation, I do believe that there is a messy beauty to our uniquely American Easter celebrations. But it is a beauty that needs to be examined and evaluated, never leaving things to chance and the whims of the culture at large.
Our view of Easter…
I would guess, that to most of our country, Easter is all about egg hunts, candy, chocolate, the Easter Bunny, and food. Lots of food. While most Americans would recognize the true “reason for the season” it is not a part of their lives in any significant way. The crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is at best an afterthought. And at worst, a sanctimonious intrusion into their lives. And while most of us that are regular church goers claim to embrace the deeper meaning of Easter, our actions, activities, and traditions do little to support that claim. This is not a self-righteous judgment on my part. I am guilty of this as well, and have been for too long. Easter is the moment our faith became reality. Easter celebrates the singular event that remade the world, tearing the veil between God and man, yet I am more excited about what food we will be eating on Sunday afternoon. I look forward to my church’s egg hunt more than I do the Good Friday service the night before. And I am convinced that I am not alone in this. We have allowed these little side items to overwhelm the meal. The main dish sits there, virtually uneaten because we have become so consumed with the sugary sweets and delectable treats heaped on our plates. If Easter is ever to rise to prominence again, in our lives or the life of our nation, we have work to do.
A few suggestions…
Everything we do, whether it be during Easter, Christmas, or any other holy celebration, should point to Christ. I realize that is basic stuff. I’m not breaking any ground here. This has been said, and said better, by many before me. It will be said, and said better, by many after me. But the point stands: the church has lost the primacy of Easter because we stopped focusing on Christ. Or better said: Our view of Easter has been diminished because we stopped using everything at our disposal to point to the empty tomb.
I hope this doesn’t come across as some crass attempt to use the name of Jesus to make things more “Christian.” I have never been a fan of slapping Jesus on things to make them more holy or spiritual. It cheapens His name and turns it into a good luck charm or talisman. In our effort to be approachable, we’ve made “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” our defining attribute. It’s our unspoken battle cry. The problem is, if we rarely use words, we might miss some perfect opportunities to actually share the Gospel. I’m not knocking that phrase or the truth behind it. Our lives should be a living, breathing restatement of the Gospel to everyone we encounter. There are times, though, that we are served up divine opportunities to say the words that can save, and we don’t because we are afraid of coming across as pushy. Or we don’t want our friends and neighbors that come to our Easter egg hunt to feel like we tricked them. Sorry, that’s not good enough. One should never apologize for sharing the Good News.
In your homes, share the Gospel. Teach the truth of the old, old story when you hunt for eggs or when you eat ham, potatoes, casseroles, and pies. Don’t assume the value and importance of Easter is clear to your family. Make the day about Jesus and His resurrection. Make it about your salvation through His sacrifice. Talk about it. Don’t leave the truth unspoken. Speak it loud and often.
In your church, if you have visitors on your campus, many who are probably un-churched and unsaved, please, please share the Gospel with words. Don’t be afraid of being perceived as pushy. Don’t be afraid of poor reactions. The Gospel is a folly to those who are perishing. Share the truth with grace and love, but share it with words and clarity. There will be some that need to hear it that very day. Don’t miss that because you want to be more approachable or non-threatening.
In your day-to-day, focus on Christ and prepare your heart for Easter. There is no greater intrusion of the fallen world than the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Jehovah God reached down into the natural order of things, and He broke it. He ripped it apart. He sacrificed His Son on the altar of humanity’s sin. He plunged His Son into the earth and into the Fall’s reward. Three days later, He reached through rock and stone, sin and shame, Hell and judgment, and shattered the unbreakable wall of separation. The earth cried out in thanksgiving. The angels lifted their voices in incomparable praise. Jesus, the very Son of God, had subjugated death and the grave. And now we, the very root and cause of our suffering, the very reason for death’s primacy, the very source of the impenetrable wall, we can raise our hands in thankful praise and cry out, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s it. That’s the whole thing. What it’s all about. Don’t lose sight of that because you are distracted by eggs, food, candlelight vigils and the rest. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus and make Him the primary focus this Easter.