Tuesday, April 03, 2007


(News-Herald, March 2002) We arrive now at what may still be my favorite holiday of the year—Easter.

I have fond memories of Easters past. Back in the day, the ministers’ forum of Franklin put on a nifty sunrise service out at Two Mile Run Park every year. It was my privilege to play in a brass choir that Tim Young directed in those days, and one of our prime activities every year was to play at that service.

It was a good reminder of the vagaries of local weather. I can remember at least one service that was moved inside because there was a foot of snow on the ground. But when it worked—well, there we’d be, playing Easter hymns on a flat-bed trailer parked on Pioneer Flats, the sun coming up over the hill behind us and illuminating three large crosses mounted on that hill.

Afterwards we’d go out to breakfast and eat too much, then disperse to our individual churches. My own church would have a large cross at the front of the sanctuary covered with lilies, and the scent filled the building.

I love that Easter has stayed largely impervious to our tendency to water down every religious holiday until it’s palatable to anyone, regardless of creed or lack thereof. I suspect that an alien landing in the US in December would assume that he’d arrived in the midst of some festival of General Nice Behavior without ever picking up a clue that the festival had anything to do with some sort of religious faith. We’ve loaded the season down with secular songs and worldly justifications for Getting Stuff; we’ve even reached the point where some folks suggest that Hanukah and Christmas are really pretty much the same, which is rather an insult to both.

But Easter resists. Marketers have never quite hit on a good hook for Easter. No matter how many times we redesign him, the Easter Bunny looks either scary or ridiculous. There’s only so much candy you can give folks, and most of us don’t know enough about seasonal clothes any more to appreciate the transition. Do I have to wait till after Easter to wear white snow boots?

An Easter egg hunt is hard to pass off as anything more than kids chasing around to grab stuff. Entertaining, but what’s the message here? Christmas gifts are supposed to represent our love and appreciation for each other, but what do we make of groping in the underbrush for fake eggs. Sometimes in life you have to look for the prizes under a bush, and then it’ll just be some cheesy plastic thing? And for music we don’t have anything beyond “Easter Parade.”

I suspect that Easter hasn’t “caught on” because the message is a bit too complicated. Christmas has been boiled down to “Be nice. Enjoy your family. Give people stuff.” But the whole death and resurrection thing—that’s a bit harder to squeeze down to a motto that will fit on a chocolate bar.

Easter isn’t as pretty as Christmas. Babies are cute (particularly if you imagine fresh-scrubbed hay and well-groomed farm animals) but there are no pretty pictures to go with the Easter story. Even Christians have trouble with that aspect; Sunday the churches will be full of folks celebrating the resurrection part of the story, but in the next forty-eight hours there will be a lot of lonely ministers in the county talking about the dying part.

And, in the end, the Easter story has a message that is not exactly the one we tend to hope for. If the life of Jesus was to be remade for the movie market, producers would definitely tweak that ending. “We’ve got to lose that whole nailed to the cross thing,” some Hollywood mogul would holler. “How about Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson parachute in and blow the Roman soldiers away? Or all the kids that he preached to before make googly eyes at the soldiers and get them to turn him loose?”***

We like stories where the Bad Thing doesn’t happen and people don’t have to go through anything really hard. For me, part of the Easter message has always been that Bad Things do happen, and yet there is renewal and resurrection and the Bad Things don’t have to be the end of the story.

It’s not an easy message to absorb or accept (which is why I think it sometimes gets garbled in translation into things like “Jesus died so that you could win a softball game or get enough money for a new Lexus”). But in the end it’s a hopeful one, just right for spring. Things really can be as bad as they seem, but that doesn’t mean that life can’t surprise you with something better than you can imagine.

***This was a rare instance of my editor's removal of my original text. For the newspaper audience he was probably correct. Since my audience here is rather more limited (and since Mel has since caught up with surpassed my thought here) I present the original full version.


J. Karian said...

Thought inspiring. I've re-read it several times. Well written, Peter. Happy Easter.

Peter A. Greene said...

Thanks. It was always one of my favorites.

Dittman said...

I really like the inclusion of the edited stuff, especially since it was prescient...

Peter A. Greene said...

Prescient is my middle name. You should read what I wrote about Iraq five years ago. Of course, I also predicted that Hillary Clinton would never run for the Senate.

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