Easter 2009 has come and gone. Into the closet goes the little bunny decorations; into the tummy go the eggs, candy, and chocolate bunnies; into the compost go the dying lilies. Now we turn the calendar page to things like Pentecost and summer. Many of us have gone to church in order to do our twice yearly duty and are no worse for the wear, although less and less of us are doing this little dance each year.
I like Easter. I have followed the tradition of Lent for all of my adult life. I always feel elation on Easter Sunday, with a sense of accomplishment and reverence. It is a sort of “holy high” that isn’t completely describable with words. This year, I felt this high even more, due to the fact that I finished reading my Bible cover to cover in 90 days (OK, plus about a week). Onward Christian soldier I went with my sword in hand, and committed in my heart. I’d like to say that the church service magnified this sense of elation, but I honestly can’t.
As I left church on that day and allowed my mind to wander, I strangely started to think of St. Patrick’s Day. At first I ignored this, because I felt that maybe I might have taken too much communion wine (OK, it’s grape juice). But as I thought deeper, I realized that these holidays really have a lot in common.
I must have some Irish in me. After all, both of my names point to the Emerald Isle. But no matter what my Irish-blood-ratio may be, it is not something that I find any identity in whatsoever. In fact, most St. Patrick’s Days I don’t even wear green. I don’t pinch people, and I’ve never had a green beer. I do enjoy the occasional Shamrock Shake, but that is about it. I have no reason for this lack of “green pride.” It isn’t like I wouldn’t drink a green Guiness if I had the chance. I just feel no real desire to.
This is not the case with most people, I know. Saint Patty’s Day is the one day where everyone is Irish. From Snoop Dog to Isabella Rosalini, everyone is in on the action. We can all grab a bagpipe and march down Main street in our kilt, and drink a pint at O’Malley’s when we’re done. Tomorrow we go back to drudgery, but everyone can be a part of this party. There is no card check at the door, no proving your heritage, no strings attached. At the same time, no one I have ever met has their life positively impacted in a lasting way by all of this festivity.
I realized that in may ways, this is almost exactly like Easter. On Easter people flock to the church in their new costumes (don’t tell me you wear a light grey suit any other time of year). People go through the motions, eat their Easter meal, and hide their eggs. This doesn’t mean that anything is required of them on Monday. It doesn’t mean they change their heart any more than celebrating St. Patrick’s Day makes people join the IRA. Easter revelry doesn’t contain so much beer and rowdiness, but other than that it seems it is pretty much the same for a lot of people.
I am not saying that Easter is meaningless (see paragraph 1). I am saying that when Christianity becomes a culture it is easy to separate the meaning of its symbols and celebrations from the heart of what its true meaning is. I saw this in a conversation I had with a friend from across the world the other day. We wished each other a Happy Easter, and as we talked I realized that he didn’t have any idea that the holiday wasn’t mostly about eggs and bunnies. I learned that our chief export in this regard was not a holiday centered around the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but instead one of fertility symbols and sweets.
I believe that there is a world agenda of forces that want to distract humanity from the truth of what Jesus did on the cross. But I also know that people communicate what is most valuable to them. It just kind of spills out of them constantly, and everyone around them knows it. Jesus said that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). In other words, what we communicate to the world, is what is truly in our heart.
America is filled with many sincere Christians who are doing powerful work in the name of Christ. Many churches are transforming the world. But the cultural Christianity that we’ve grown used to is not. It has all too often spewed a non-committal holiday of Spring, like so much green St. Patrick’s vomit. –Ryan