Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Anecdote for the Beginning of Holy Week

One day, a little over a year before I came into the Church, two women at my workplace were denouncing the manager of my department--a devout Pentecostal and family man--because, when all the managers had been asked to come in on Easter Sunday to catch up on some things, he'd said "no, he needed to be with his family on Easter." The matter had little or nothing to do with them, but one of them, especially, was quite exercised about it. She didn't accept his reason for not working that day and declared "Easter isn't even an important holiday, not like Christmas!"

"Actually, for Christians it's the most important holiday of the year," was on the tip of my tongue, but I bit it. (As a nice Southern girl or possibly as what Amy Welborn calls a "not nice girl", I do that a lot.) It's probably just as well I bit my tongue, because I later learned she went to church, suggesting she probably was some stripe of Christian and so my telling her what Christians do might have seemed presumptuous.

But it's an interesting attitude.

We moderns, at least here in America, seem to have let advertisers tell us which holiday is the more important, and oddly enough they picked the one that let them sell us more stuff.

I know which of the two I looked forward to as a child. I mean, hunting Easter eggs and eating a basketful of candy was nice and all, but we usually had to go to church (bor-ing!) and I was a little vague on the whole why of the thing anyway. Whereas Christmas, on the other hand, had a months long buildup, starting with the arrival of the Sears toy catalogue in early autumn and, once Thanksgiving came, special programs on TV and a visit to Santa and tree selecting and decorating, to fill the time pleasantly until that wonderful night came with all of its ritual of cookies and milk and being sent to bed early and then Christmas morning--finally--with toys from Santa and an extra-special dinner to look forward to. We usually didn't have to go to church (it not falling on Sunday most years), but I knew the Christmas story and it was relatively easy to grasp. Some years my mother would read it aloud on Christmas (starting with "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus..."), and it was a great story that fit in easily enough with all the warm and cosy holiday programming; the Peanuts special even quoted from it.

There weren't any beloved Easter programs that quoted from the Resurrection story, let alone the Passion. We heard the story in Sunday school of course, but it was full of stuff that was incomprehensible to little kids who didn't have as much background on the subject as the adults around us may have assumed we did. (For example, who were all these people and why were they in Jerusalem, why palms on the ground, why a crown of thorns, who was Pilate, who were the Romans, etc.) Maybe some of the adults didn't think the Passion was a terribly nice story, at least not for little kids, because I don't remember hearing much about it. (Another possibility is I wasn't paying sufficient attention.) There was a picture of the Agony in the Garden I used to see all over the place, but the story we got sometimes seemed to skip from Jesus going into Jerusalem on a donkey (another popular illustration) to the stone being found already rolled back. I didn't know why the schools let us off on Good Friday. I didn't know why Good Friday was called good. My guess is I wasn't alone in that.

It's a shame. Because while the story of the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus isn't going to sell as many dollars worth of merchandise as the story of his birth does, it is a very important story. Contrary to my coworker's opinion, Easter is a very important holiday. Even more important than Christmas. The Incarnation of the un-created Creator, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, into human form, subject to all the ills that flesh is heir to is a big story, yes, and one well worth celebrating with all the presents and feasting and strings of lights that people care to have. But that this Word made flesh then voluntarily chose to undergo terrible suffering on our behalf when he could have avoided it--that is also important to remember, is it not? And that he then rose from the dead and walked and talked with his apostles and was seen by over five hundred people--kind of a big story, too, right? And that all of this has profound implications for those who take him to heart and are willing to accept what he offers? Yeah, that's big. If none of it had happened, we might not even remember the Incarnation at Christmas.

Just something to think about this week.

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