Easter comes early this year. It used to bother me when that happened, not just because I’d freeze at the sunrise service. But somehow because Easter felt less complete with anything less than nature in teeming, colorful, aromatic array in support of our festive sanctuary celebration.
Now I am older and wiser. I’ve learned that as Easter comes early, before nature goes riotously gorgeous and sunny, it is easier to get your attention and focus on the things that matter most.
Why is that? We want to blend the two, springtime and Easter, under the general category of new life. But consider: trees budding into green leaves and bulbs bursting into red flowers are among the most natural things ever to happen. But a broken man rising from his grave, greeting friends with massive tidings of new life for all is one of the least natural things ever to transpire.
The difference might sound too subtle to mention. But believe me, I can feel the difference—and it’s a wide and yawning gulf—in expectations gathering around my Easter Sunday sermons.
When Easter is the most natural thing in the world, folks expect a sermon that explains Easter, makes God understandable, sums up the deep mystery, and treats scripture as an extension of the common sense by which we already live our lives, rather than a full interruption of our lives.
Of course, no one has ever put it to me quite that plainly, that directly. But people do say things like, “Hey, it’s just a symbol, right? A general symbol of all of our dyings and risings. A symbol of life, of hope in general.” Easter is not about hope in general, but about hope specifically in God. Life at Easter isn’t a continuation of life as we know it, but a full interruption by Life from above.
Smitten with romanticizing nature, ignoring its real dangers, we easily glorify God as Creator on golf courses at sunset, on beaches with roaring surfs, upon mountains we summit and ski down. But to glorify God as Redeemer, we must situate ourselves in a specific story beginning with the hope of the people of Israel, and fulfilled in the revived hope of disciples willing to follow Jesus.
People may ask me to reduce the mystery of Easter to something already within their grasp—like daffodils sprouting—but people don’t really want it. If people came to church to hear such a reverberating mystery rendered or reduced into common sense, Easter wouldn’t be the most popular day on the church calendar. That desire may have surface appeal, but it doesn’t satisfy.
Easter is in a class of events all by itself. We cannot point to other analogues to break it down. Easter does have about it a divine kind of logic, consistent with the Old Testament Psalms and prophets. But because it is so much bigger than we are, because it was God’s idea and not ours, we’ll never finally make sense of it. We shouldn’t try. We should merely celebrate and enjoy it.
Come and be with me at 7, 9, or 11 am on Easter to stand in joy and awe at what God has done.