Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chesterton For Easter

I was raised in a denomination that did not celebrate Easter. The older people thought it was a sin to celebrate at all; by the time I was a kid, it was acceptable to hunt Easter eggs and talk about the Easter bunny, but any religious overtones were still the utmost sin.

We began going to various inter- and non-denominational churches when I was a little older. It was sometimes confusing and uncomfortable to worship with people who'd come from backgrounds which viewed Easter as deeply religious, so I naturally gravitated toward the view that our Christian religious holidays have been adapted from pagan holidays, that we should instead get in touch with our Jewish roots and celebrate holidays like Passover instead of Easter. The older I got, the more I felt compelled to abandon the culture of my childhood.

We've tried to celebrate Christian versions of Passover many times with more or less success. The feast IS a wonderful picture of Christ's sacrifice and of salvation,'s like living in a foreign land. There are no childhood memories for me. When you have to look up how to celebrate in a book, it feels more like a history lesson than a holiday.

I've been rereading the Old Testament this year. The thing I've seen most clearly in that endeavor is that I am not Jewish. My religion is starkly different from what I see there. Yes, Jesus was Jewish. Sure, He came to fulfill the Law, but what does that mean to us, today, on a practical level? Honestly? I've never seen more clearly that He started a new religion, that He was a revolutionary.

The words of G. K. Chesterton, posted on a friend's Facebook wall, most clearly resonate with this idea:

           "And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god       from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable            recurrence and of unalterable power. Nay, but let the atheists themselves                  choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation;          only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist."

Easter still makes me uncomfortable. I can't just embrace the bunny while everyone I know is celebrating Christ's victory over sin and death; neither can I fully turn from the discomfort I have with the religious aspect of a pagan holiday. It's not so much its pagan origins that bother me any more, either—it's something much more sinister, something in my own heart.

To cry with my friends, "He is risen!" feels insincere. To rejoice in his rising because it is Easter feels like going along with what's popular because it's popular, like jumping off a cliff because my friends do. And so, in typical fashion, I find myself holding back, even from something that might give life, because popularity breeds suspicion in me.

And I notice, shamefully—for I don't think it's right to watch other people's worship, but watching seems to be what I do best—that those who most decry the pagan origins of the day are the ones who most participate, who wear the new dresses, curl their hair, paint their nails. While the ones who are accused of creating the deceit, of "converting" the holiday for Christian purposes, are the ones most focused on the actual resurrection of Christ.

I don't think there's anything wrong with Easter bunnies or painted nails or pretty dresses, only with my own judgmental soul. In short, the pastel-colored children help me to turn my eyes to Jesus because they help me see what a Pharisee I can be, even when I'm not sure what I think is right.

I want to be alone today, to nurse my wounded sense of clarity, to comb a toupee back over this pride, to feel the darkness of the world, my heart, and try once again to figure out what is "right" to do about Easter. Instead, I have five children and friends and happily-colored eggs and candy to dutifully distribute and smile about.

Even that reminds me of the resurrection. I imagine some of the apostles probably wanted to be alone, to nurse their disappointment and doubt, not to congregate together, not to look into each others' faces and be sociable. And in the midst of their sorrow came a Savior, whose presence and life demanded that all the earth rejoice. I'd probably be the lone figure in the corner pouting that my emotions had been wrung inside out and I couldn't handle the grief and the joy. I'd probably be worried that rejoicing in the presence of the risen Christ was too popular in a room full of disciples, worry that it would seem put-on, like a lemming running over a cliff.

Hopefully the secret sincerity of my heart will suffice. And since I can't be alone and dark-faced today, at least I can tuck Chesterton under my arm and keep his twisted sense of humor and ironic reverence close by.

Easter eggs or high church, my dark thoughts are with you today in all sincerity and love, even if they are not as orthodox as I would like them to be. Happy Easter.

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