4.11.2009

An Offensive Message


The circles that I tend to run in are diverse and tolerant, and the usual interpersonal interactions I have brief and casual, so "have a happy Easter" is a not uncommon thing for me to say or hear. Even those who, knowing I am religious, are intentional when they say "Easter," meaning they know the holiday has significance for me beyond family gatherings and Easter egg hunts, are simply being cordial, not imparting some sober blessing upon me. And I'm fine with that, and usually reciprocate: "you have a happy Easter, too," or "enjoy Passover," or "have a good weekend," as the case may be.

But I'm conflicted, because Easter is anything but casual and breezy. And I'm not just talking about the usual tone of contemplation and seriousness associated with considering the last words of Jesus or his anguished suffering on the cross. I mean, think of the ramifications of even the happier, good newsy parts of the Easter story: humanity is so depraved and dead that God sends His Son to die a condemned criminal's death and then resurrects Him from the usual finality of death into a place of glory.

Truly, this is not meant to serve as an inspirational story that even a non-believer can derive positive feeling from, as if it can be taken to mean that we can be optimistic in even the most dire of situations, and that in such moments that can feel like death we can hold out hope for figurative resurrections. No, the resurrection story that is central to Easter is based on the premise that man and God are not otherwise OK, that sin is serious, and that, save the most drastic and momentous of acts, our being riddled with sin is worthy of eternal separation/condemnation/damnation.

In other words, this is either really good news if you believe it and take it to heart, or it is incredibly offensive, off-putting, backwards, and arrogant. You either say, "Yes, I agree; I and humanity are sinful, and that's a problem, and not only a problem, but a significant and unsolvable problem . . . except that He is risen!" Or you say, "How dare you judge me!?! How dare you say we are not all right with God!?! How dare you co-opt all faith traditions and claim that deciding about Jesus is the real fork in the road for all humanity!?!" Hence the dissonance of happily and breezily saying or hearing: "Have a nice Easter."

Now I'm not saying I should blindly and rudely ram the Easter message down the throat of everyone I see; there is a place for privacy and tolerance and respect. But, far from the casual holiday that it represents in most peoples' minds, the true Easter has unmistakably embedded in it a proposition that is either a profound salve or an irksome offense. What does it mean for you?
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