Saturday, March 30, 2013

What is the Meaning of Easter?

Tomorrow, we will celebrate Easter. If you're like me, you probably know enough about Easter to smile and nod when people mention it, but not enough to get too excited about the day itself. I mean, there's the pastel parade and the egg hunt and the fun (or perhaps, awkward) family gathering, but aside from that, why all the fuss? And I am saying this as someone raised in the church-- surely I should know by now why its a big deal! But for me, having been raised in the church is part of the problem.

Here's what I mean. Often, the Christian faith is promulgated as "people who believe Jesus died on the cross and rose again." And yes, that's true. But often, Easter is dwindled down to "Yay! Jesus rose again from the dead!" and everyone is expected to act excited-- but that can be about as effective as saying, "Yay! white smoke came out of a chimney!" In other words, without knowing the context of the story (ie. white smoke came out of THE chimney, announcing the new pope's election!!!), the details can seem like meaningless information. This weekend as Easter has approached, I've had to sit back and "revisit" the whole story in order to understand why Jesus being raised from the dead means what it does-- and why it should excite me. 

To do so, I've had to remember that Jesus' story began long before my white, Western, Protestant tradition took shape. In fact, it began long before Jesus  was even born-- it began with creation. God created a good world, where everyone got along: with each other, with God, and with the rest of creation. There were no family feuds, no awkward conversations about "religion," no thoughtless destruction of created things. No tsunamis or forest fires or elementary school shootings or orphans. Sin-- humanity's rebellion against God-- was the foreign agent that fractured creation at its seams, like a virus that spread through a body, causing the brokenness we now experience every day.

The Good Creator God, who had every right to respond in judgment, chose instead to set into action a Plan that would rescue the very creation that rebelled against Him. He started with one man, named Abraham. "I will make you into a great nation...and through you, all the nations of the world will be blessed." Often, the story of Abraham's offspring, Israel, gets cast in a nationalistic light-- as if God picked favorites and only cared about one group of people.  Israel was chosen by God, but not to sit and gloat about their status. Rather, they were chosen to be the vehicle through which God would rescue the whole world; to be a community that reflected what creation was originally intended to be.

It is in the context of Israel's story that Jesus' life, death, and resurrection make sense, because He is the culmination of Israel's story. He was the offspring of Abraham-- the one through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed; He was the vehicle through whom the world would be rescued. He was the one who demonstrated through His perfect life what creation was intended to be-- what humanity truly looks like, when not tarnished by sin. And He was also the sacrifice, who shed His own blood to "wash away" the sins of all who long to be restored to right relationship with God. These were the tasks that God gave Israel to do in order to bring peace to all creation; and this is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus is Israel.

So, what does Easter-- the celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead-- mean in context of the whole story? It means His rescue plan was successful because in His death, Jesus took sin-- the foreign agent that has wreaked havoc on creation-- upon Himself, and left it in the grave when He rose again. The ultimate enemy has been defeated, and the pivotal act in God's rescue plan has been accomplished. What it means for me is that through trusting in Him and following Him, I am rescued as well. The sin that has tarnished my own life and relationships-- fear, anxiety, lust, anger, bitterness-- is nailed to the cross with Christ and put to death. The life I was intended to live by my Good Creator-- one untarnished by the damaging effects of sin-- is made possible through the new life achieved by Christ. What's more, in following Christ who is Israel, I get to be a part of His rescue plan-- as one of His own, I'm invited to be about what He is about-- caring for the world He created and seeking its full restoration. 

That is something to be excited about.

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