This past Saturday I visited the zoo with my husband and another couple. I know, right? Cute. As we were walking along looking at the monkeys and birds, a rabbit hopped by on the path in front of us. A tiny little blonde girl with pigtails walking near us looked up at her parents and excitedly exclaimed, “maybe it’s the Easter bunny!”
I can’t remember if I ever actually believed in the Easter bunny, but I do remember that Easter has never been my favorite holiday, and actually, if I’m honest, holidays in general really don’t do that much for me. I like my normal life a lot, so why disrupt it? I’ve felt that Easter, like any other holiday, is a passing remembrance of history and is really just a day like any other. I was raised in a culture where we might take a holiday off work, but then spend it checking overdue items off our to-do list or taking an extra long nap. Really reflecting on the symbolism of holiday, sacrificing our time, letting it interrupt our life, is not something we are used to.
The meaning of holidays, a day to be holy, special, different, is almost foreign to the space-minded person like me, to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, quality-less, empty shells. Unlike me, the Bible senses the diversified character of time; it teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year (see Rabbi Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man). Easter is a monumental journey along the path of the Christian year. I’m catching a vision from friends and teachers at my church that are telling me, “hey, this matters.” There are days that are supposed to interrupt our lives. While God is with us all the time, there are times that cause us to pause, recognize significance, and give thanks.
In order to understand the significance of Easter in the Christian year, we must understand the Jewish liturgical year as well. The celebration of Passover took place just before the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and the two holidays have been intertwined ever since. The word Pasch, originally meaning Passover, came to mean Easter as well. On Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus sat down with his disciples and had “the last supper,” a Passover meal. The Passover meal is a time to celebrate and remember God’s rescue of the Hebrew people from slavery. While in bondage in Egypt, the people were instructed to slaughter a lamb and smear its blood on their doorposts, so that they could be saved from impending death. How appropriate that the day after that meal, Jesus would shed his blood so that all could be free.
Yesterday while at the gym, I saw a “Happy Passover” commercial that ended with the words declared at the beginning of the Haggadah (Passover seder), All who are hungry, come and eat; all who are needy come and celebrate Passover. What Jesus did that weekend made it possible for all to come and celebrate.
We thus live in the mystery of Holy Week, that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24).
Jesus’ dying, resurrection, and ascension become our dying and rising, our death to new life. Our Lord teaches us that life comes from death, that we can find meaning in suffering, that there is light in darkness. Death, indeed, does not have the last word.
*Note – I borrowed many of these ideas from the Rev. Dr. Timothy Smith, who wrote a lenten devotional called “Blessed – Daily Retreats With Jesus for the Season of Lent 2013.” It is available from http://www.waterfromrock.org