It’s been said that Christianity turns the world upside down. It certainly turns human expectations, really human instincts, about religion or spirituality upside down. C S Lewis said somewhere that being high minded about the Christian faith would domesticate or civilize it beyond recognition. Happily Easter and the three days before are resistant to domestication, unlike Christmas.
We have often unwittingly become Christmas people rather than Easter people. It used to confuse me when I was a child that the public, civil recognition of Christmas was more or less aligned with the Bible — Jesus in the manger, angels announcing his birth, wise men bringing gifts — but when we got to Easter the public, civil recognition switched to the Easter bunny, candy and colored eggs. I couldn’t figure out why with shift took place. Christmas has as its central thread the wonder of the incarnation and while Israel was looking for a Messiah, no one could have expected that He would be God incarnate. It’s a wondrous and happy occasion.
In contrast, at Easter, or more properly the three days before, all of the grit of the Bible as the history of redemption seems to converge. Sin is rightly assessed; God’s holiness has its, to us, harsh realities; the sacrificial system reaches its fulfillment. The repetitive flaws of the people of God and the relentless pursuit of the God who loves them close during this ‘passion’ week. Love is seen not to be lightheaded and happy, but determined and costly. Christmas is awesome in that it’s the great ‘no’ to the devil’s insinuation that God does not love, but both grace and justice are united in full intensity at the cross. God’s holiness and mercy demonstrate themselves not to be paradoxical but perfectly and simply one in God: consuming fire and absolute beauty.
When Jesus says, “it is finished,” we who are paying attention are exhausted. It ought to be a moment of rejoicing — sin’s price paid, the devil’s work destroyed, the curtain in the temple split, tombs open up with their inhabitants alive again. The Romans are awestruck and recognize Jesus, but the disciples are scattered and we subsequent Christians get quiet for the day. We can’t rejoice even in the accomplishment of redemption because the price was too high and the implications for our position are too much. It’s a good thing we have Easter to get us up off our faces.
Being Christmas people we are maybe a little too eager to get to Easter. A few years ago I was one of seven who preached at a local “Seven Last Words” Good Friday service. I was one of two or three who focused on Good Friday, so eager were the others, and the congregation, to get to Easter. One writer has written, “We will not know what to do with Easter’s light if we shun the darkness that is wisdom’s way to the light.”
I was raised in a Christian tradition that was densely liturgical but I was converted by hearing the Bible taught and discussed. Naturally I drifted from liturgical practices and the calendar and embraced a kind of hippy, Jesus-people, spontaneous expression of joyful worship. (One of my good friends loves to remind me of the year I forgot it was Palm Sunday.) I’m still nervous about the calendar full fledged, but paying close attention to the Bible, especially the density of the four gospels’ attention to the last several days of Jesus life, compels me to set aside this week for careful reflection. I hope you’ll consider joining our various services around the city, not shying away from the darkness but seeing it as a good way to set yourself up for an explosion of light on Easter.
Rick has served as the Senior Pastor at CTK Cambridge for the past 17 years. His vision of a multi-site congregation has led to the church planting efforts around the Boston area.
You can find the schedule of Holy Week events for your congregation in your weekly communication or on the website.