I read a provocative column in the Wall Street Journal by James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor of America magazine. Martin starts by asking how it is that Easter has managed to resist the commercialization that has overcome many holidays, especially Christmas.
His answer is simple: “Resurrection makes a claim on you.” In contrast, Christmas is “largely nonthreatening to nonbelievers.”
He goes on, “Easter is not as easy to digest as Christmas. It is harder to tame. Anyone can be born, but not everyone can rise from the dead.”
Several years ago, I read a similar article by Eastern Orthodox writer Frederica Mathewes-Green called, satirically, “Merry Easter?” She also points out that Easter has refused to be coopted by our consumer culture, noting that “No one plans to have a holly jolly Easter.”
After suggesting that Christmas has “a type of fun that could be better described as styled for children,” she writes that Easter is a celebration for people who have seen “suffering and death,” and “situations so crushingly unfair that it was impossible that the universe bore no witness, impossible that there was no God who could wipe tears away and effect justice on the last day.”
Easter declares that the same Jesus who lived among us as a presumed illegitimate child, a refugee, a laborer, a convicted criminal, and an executed man, defeated death – as well as the powers of sin and evil that bend God’s good creation toward destruction.
Mathewes-Green writes that in the risen Christ, “we find the vibrancy of life and a firm compassion that does not deny our suffering but transforms and illuminates it.”
Along the same lines, Martin notes, “When one prays to Jesus, one prays to someone who knows, in the most intimate way possible, what it means to live a human life.”
As Christians, we are brutally honest about the deep brokenness of life – both our inner lives and in the world around us.
However, we boldly announce that, through the brutality of the betrayal, false conviction, and unjust execution of Jesus, God endured and absorbed sin and death, rising again as conqueror, inviting us – broken people living in a broken world – into His great victory.
Importantly, even as we are, in Paul’s words, “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37), we are not immune to suffering.
The risen Christ still bears the scars of the crucifixion, thus His followers, even in victory, are acquainted with deep pain. Philip Yancey, quoting the missionary doctor Paul Brand, writes, “[Jesus] carried the marks of suffering so he could continue to understand the needs of those suffering. He wanted to be forever one with us.”
As we continue to celebrate the resurrection, may we rejoice that our God has come to us as one who suffers, yet, through His suffering and death, offers us victory. As we share in his victory, we share in His sufferings. This is not a sentimental message likely to be commercialized.
Yet, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, it is both “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24), the very power and wisdom that our deeply broken world needs so desperately.
And so we proclaim, with our words and our deeds, “Christ is Risen!”
This post originally appeared on the Christ Church website on April 8, 2016.