Friday, April 02, 2010

Easter and Redemption

(News-Herald, April 1) I do not ordinarily get extra-excited for holidays. It’s not that I don’t like what the holidays stand for. Whether it’s the Fourth of July (“community and country are good”), Memorial Day (“people who in service of our country deserve respect”) or even Christmas (“Yay, Jesus” if you’re Christian or “Be nice and buy things” if you’re not), they all represent good and worthwhile concepts.
But really, if the sentiment is that important, I’m pretty sure it deserves more than one day’s worth of our attention. Sometimes I think some people use their single day of visible devotion to love or family or patriotism as an excuse for 364 days of slacking on those fine qualities.
Easter is different. Other holidays can be reduced to a single icon, an image that we can fit on a poster or a t-shirt. A flag, a star, a baby, a big smiling Santa holding whatever product he’s being used to sell.
Easter can’t be reduced. Yes, we try. An egg. A cross, empty or not. But those don’t do the job. Flags, stars, mangers, Santas—they all stand for the idea that we associate with the day. But Easter is not about a simple concept or frozen image. Other holidays celebrate concepts; Easter celebrates an event. The cross doesn’t really capture Easter—it’s just the place where something important happened.
Easter is about redemption, and redemption is an action. It’s something that happens, and so at Easter, we can celebrate the moment that it happens. Other holidays are chairs in which we can find ourselves sitting, watching the spectacle, but Easter is a door we have to stand up and walk through.
And what a door it is. The most powerful tool possessed by evil (Satan, bad vibes, whatever you like) is the idea of “Game Over.” We make a mistake, show poor judgment, give in to our lesser selves, or just plain behave badly. There is nothing more powerfully destructive at that point than saying, “Well, that’s it. I’m an awful person, and I’ll do nothing but awful things for the rest of my life. There’s no point in trying to do anything else.” Based on what we’ve done so far, we throw away everything we might ever do with the life that lies ahead of us.
Many cultures lack the idea of redemption. If you have made a mess of things, you have no options but death or exile. Everything good you ever could have done is snuffed out before it can even draw breath. Because things are dark now, we declare the future already dead.
So redemption and resurrection go together, because redemption brings our future back to life.
And it requires action, movement, a change in our own position and direction. You can sit in your chair and think, “Yeah, I am feeling patriotic/loving/reverent today.” You can’t just sit and your chair and think, “Yeah, I am feeling so very redeemy today.” You have to get out of the chair and walk through the door to find that new reborn future.
Now, the future we get may not be the one we were planning on. Messing up, darkness, defeat, bad mistakes—those can all put an end to the path we were on, and it’s a mistake to think that redemption moves us backwards. Easter morning found the disciples facing a future that was newly redeemed from the utter black defeat they had been contemplating, but it was also a future completely different from anything they had imagined.
The other nice thing about redemption is that, done right, it changes our view of others. Because if my future can’t be written off as dark and dead and useless, than neither can anybody else’s. There isn’t anybody so low and dark that redemption is impossible. It doesn’t mean that I give anyone a free pass for bad behavior, and it’s always smart to stay out of the way of dangerous toxic people. But it does mean that I don’t get to simply dismiss people because I see them as just Really Wrong today. No matter how dark it is right now, tomorrow is another day.
Easter is not about standing still; it’s about moving from the darkness into the light, from death to life, from lost to redeemed, from winter to spring. And it is one of the few holidays that does not ask us to sit and watch something happen, but to be the thing that is happening.

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