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Easter is the real deal

Christianity lost the battle for Christmas a long time ago. There was too much money to be made and too much fantasy and nostalgia to be found in a holiday about children, gifts, elves, Santa Claus, reindeer, snowmen and snow.

Maybe just as well. Christmas was never a serious Christian holiday anyway. It was invented to compete with pagan sun rituals. It was populated by evangelists writing many years after the incarnation who wrote four different narratives to explain the meaning (not the historicity) of events known in legend, not in observable fact.

Easter, on the other hand, is the real deal. It was an actual event, seen by many, rooted in history. From the empty tomb flowed the faith that changed the world.

To be sure, modern Christianity must engage in minor skirmishes with bunnies, flowers and candy. But mostly, this holy day is our story to tell. We should be careful and creative in how we tell it.

Easter is poorly served if we make too much of the pageantry. The resurrection is told best in quiet places, in images filled with mystery, by people whose lives have been changed by brief words spoken to confused disciples.

The audience for Easter worship should be the new Christian, the one who is sitting with the flame for the first time, who is awestruck by the audacious account. The regulars who attended a year ago, or decades ago, should be the quiet souls who hear the story told by preacher and singer, and then say, “Yes, I heard that, too, and it has changed my life.”

Easter isn’t a day of triumph, even when we have heard the story many times. It is always confusing — the historical events are beyond full understanding, and their meaning defies comprehension. How could the world’s worst be rolled aside by the hand of God? Do we matter that much to God? How should we live in such knowledge?

I grew up in the heyday of mainline religion. Our Easter was about pageantry: the most elaborate vestments worn all year, majestic hymns accompanied by brass, a large choir, flowers everywhere. It was a great show, and it made me happy to be with my family in such pageantry.

The facts, questions and awe of Easter didn’t hit me for many years. It was a night when a few friends and I sat together and contemplated the suffering of Jesus and his rising to life, while we helped an older woman prepare for her baptism.

It was an early Easter, and the floor of our church got quite cold, not unlike the ground on which frightened disciples sat and wondered what would come next. When we baptized Helen at dawn, she was made new in the life of Jesus. So were we.

As we celebrate Easter, we should seek out cold floors, bold companions, appropriate confusion and ears to hear whatever God would say today.