Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter vs. Christmas

I'm wondering why Easter isn't as big an American holiday as Christmas. Here is my friend Robert's response:

I think it boils down to this: Would you rather go to a friend's (or savior's) baby shower or execution? Christmas is easier to co-opt than Easter because it's about virgin birth, not virgin sacrifice.

Maybe blood does sell at Halloween, but Easter is really Christianity's central and most bloody Holiday. Taking it for the same ride that Christmas has gone on is a lot trickier. Sometimes Easter is "celebrated" by people walking through the streets with crosses on their backs and putting nails through their feet. Write a carol or secularize that...not so easy.

And here's my response to Robert:

Thank you, Robert! NOW we're getting somewhere! Maybe the basic difference is that Christmas is about birth and Easter is about death. But Easter is supposed to be about resurrection. Are we just idiots to be unable to see past the death and focus on the resurrection?

Maybe we're unable to focus on the resurrection because we don't understand it. What was the appropriate response to Jesus' birth? Worship. The three kings, the shepherds, everyone had that one response that was expected and appropriate. We understand that. Worship Jesus? No problem.

But what was the appropriate response to Jesus' resurrection? The apostles weren't at all united in their response to the events of Jesus' death and escape from the tomb. Some believed, some didn't, some were simply in fear for their lives. The teacher to whom they had committed their lives was suddenly gone and they had to fend from themselves. It was a much more complicated situation and the bible offers us no easy models.

What is our modern response to the story of Jesus' torture, death and rebirth? Uh, I dunno. Thanks, Jesus? Sorry about that? I wish I weren't such a sinner so you had to die for me?

The Catholic Church has done a piss-poor job of conveying to us what Jesus' resurrection really was, how to respond to that story and what it means in our daily lives. It's almost as if the spring equinox with all its celebration of rebirth looked like another opportunity to impose doctrine on an established pagan tradition. So the church appropriated this festival of fertility and birth and tried to make Jesus' death and resurrection fit it. But it doesn't quite work.

Why doesn't it work? I'd guess because the story of Jesus' death and resurrection isn't really about rebirth. Jesus doesn't get born again as a baby, the same person he was before. Jesus reveals himself to be god-like and impervious to physical harm. He demonstrates that he was never really just a man at all, but a supernatural being.

It's late and that's all I've got right now. But thanks, Robert, for getting me a little bit farther in my attempt to answer this question.

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