For others, though, including many Christians, the focus will be on the historical events surrounding the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth more than two thousand years ago. Some Christian churches will re-enact the Last Supper as part of a Maundy Thursday service. More specifically, Catholic Christians will celebrate the command of Christ to wash each others' feet. Recent press coverage of the agitation caused in certain "conservative" circles over the actions of Pope Francis as he washed, dried and kissed the feet of young men and women, Christian and Muslem, show just how serious this ritual is taken, and how those who are upset by the pope's actions feel that he has somehow dishonored the actions of Christ. Both approaches, the ignore-the-religious-implications-of Easter approach, and the "let's-do-what-Jesus-did" approach, in my opinion, miss the whole point.
For the secular approach, one often hears, "I'm not a Christian and it's just as silly to talk about a crucified man who lived and died 2000 years ago who somehow is supposed to have come back to life, as it is to believe in the Easter Bunny. And at least the Bunny brings chocolate." For the historicist approach, the triduum is little more than a Passion Play that we watch from our seats. Various people have their favorite parts to perform in the drama, but when it's over, it's over until next year. Godspell without the music.
May I suggest, on this Holy Saturday, that we all challenge ourselves to go deeper? For those inclined to the secular, "rational" approach, may I suggest that Easter isn't about Jesus, or at least, not ONLY about him. Easter is about finding those ways in our lives in which a loving God, whether one "admits" of God or not, finds new ways every day to give us life, joy and peace. To the extent that we find those things in our lives, we know that they do not come from within ourselves, nor are they of our own making. They are gifts from One who loves us even when we don't reciprocate that love.
For those Christians inclined to the historical Jesus approach, might I suggest that there be a "so what?" moment of reflection. Yes, we believe that Jesus the Christ did all of these things.
But so what?
How does Christ's self-emptying love, leading all the way to the Cross, find meaning in what I do today? What difference does it make in my life and the lives of those around me? If my focus is all on the historical, how do we engage the present and envision the future? How does the kenotic become theotic?
Tonight, at the great Easter Vigil, I too will have a part to perform, a ministry to exercise, as deacon. In fact, one of the great joys and challenges for me will be the singing of the Exultet, the ancient hymn of praise which opens the Vigil. Standing in the light of hundreds of candles, held in the darkened church by those who are recalling the candles received at their own baptism, I will do my best to proclaim the true meaning of Easter. There is a section of the Exultet which often "causes me to tremble" as I chant it. While we have a newer translation in place, I offer here the following words of comfort and challenge Please read them slowly, reflectively, prayerfully:
The power of this holy night:
dispels all evil,
washes guilt away,
restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred,
brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.
Easter isn't about the Bunny and it isn't just about Jesus. What we see around us in Spring: new life, now becomes a reality within ourselves as well. Easter IS about new life, new chances, new beginnings for ALL people, rich or poor, women or men, gay or straight, black or white. In Mark's Gospel, when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John, we are told that "the heavens were opened". The Greek word used there is "schizomenous", and given the Jewish cosmology of the time, we might easily translate that word as saying that the heavens "were shattered": that in Christ there is no longer anything to separate creation from the Creator. God and creation are joined. It becomes our mission to live that good news in the way we treat others. As Pope Francis demonstrated so beautifully on Holy Thursday, that includes caring and loving ALL people, with no consideration of anything other than that they are sisters and brothers from the same God.
Happy Easter Sunday! But the real test will be: How will you live Easter on MONDAY?