On Easter morning a Sunday School teacher began to quiz her class of young children about the real meaning of the day. She asked them, “What is Easter?”.
A little boy jumped up and said, “Oh, I know! Easter is that holiday when we get together with our families, eat turkey, and everyone is thankful.” The teacher answered, “No, not quite. Does anyone else know?” Another child enthusiastically answered, “This is easy! Easter is the holiday when we grill burgers and hotdogs, shoot off fireworks, and celebrate our country’s birthday.”
She began to wonder if anyone in the room knew what Easter was really about. But then a little girl stood and began speaking, “Easter is a Christian holiday that follows the remembrance of Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Jesus was buried in tomb, and a large rock was rolled over the entrance.”
The teacher nearly squealed in delight. She was about to thank the child for such a good explanation when the girl continued, “And on Easter morning the stone is rolled away so Jesus can get out. Then, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.” No, not quite.
While the children in this story gave incomplete answers, the question asked is still a good one: “What is Easter? Do we really know what it is about?”
Many believers spend Easter morning proclaiming or listening to massive, exhaustive explanations of the resurrection miracle (though miracles, by default, are inexplicable). The gospel accounts are analyzed and reconciled; scientific objections are considered and then dismantled; skeptics are scolded and unbelievers are disregarded. It is apologetic calisthenics, a vigorous workout in defending Jesus’ reputation, and not quite the answer.
Other believers hear or give Easter explanations that deal almost exclusively with life after death. The resurrection of Jesus is presented as our ticket to ride the divine bus, transporting us to heaven when we die. Interestingly, the New Testament never directly says “Jesus was resurrected from the dead so you can go to heaven when you die.” The eventual application is made to that effect, but that is not quite the message of Easter either.
Rather, the New Testament says, over and over again, that “Jesus is raised from the dead, therefore he must be Lord over creation. Jesus is raised from the dead, he must be – he has to be – the grounding to what life today is all about. Jesus is raised from the dead, therefore God has done something unique and life-giving in this his servant and something unique and life-giving has invaded the entire world.”
So Easter, it seems, is not so much about defending the Christian belief system (Jesus didn’t come to provide a “belief system” or a collection of doctrines in the first place; he came to give us life) as it is a revolution of transforming hope for the world.
Easter is not so much a passage way into the nether regions of tomorrow, as it is a powerful, redemptive way to live today. For you see, when God raised Jesus from the dead – and Christians believe Christ is indeed risen – he signaled the beginning of the redemption of all things, and provided the potency to bring this redemption to its fulfillment.
So we must do more than explain Easter. We must live it and “get in” on it today. We must do more than use the resurrection as a hope for heaven. We must use it to instigate heaven on earth. We must do more than say “He is Risen,” we must become proof of Christ’s resurrection power.
If we have reduced the resurrection of Jesus to mere dogma, or if we employ it as an escape hatch from this life for the life to come, we are responding to the question, “What is Easter?” with an enthusiastic, but incomplete answer.