Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Happy Easter"?

Most pagans – God bless them – don't quite know what to do with Easter.

It's funny; they ought to, since it was originally a pagan festival that the church baptised. Nothing wrong with that, of course, since if pagans themselves can become baptised as believers, then so can their festivals, provided we remember that baptism involves death prior to new life. Which brings us back to Easter. Every year I receive many wishes of "happy Easter" during Holy Week and it has increasingly struck me as odd. Worse is when Christians can also think of nothing better to say. How do you reply?

Here are some of my attempts, depending on the context (how well I know them, how much longer the conversation might conceivably continue, etc.):

• "Yes indeed, because Christ is risen!"
I tried this one on a teenage shop employee for whom wishing me "happy Easter" was obviously part of his training. He looked at me as if to say "What's Christ got to do with it?"

• "Not yet, we're still in Lent."
Amazing how many Christians don't even know what Lent is about (or try here for more links if you're not into those suggestions).

• "Don't jump the gun, he's got to die first." Or perhaps, "we've got to die first".
Try that one on your co-workers or the postman.
The casual celebration of Easter with chocolate and relaxed BBQs (or through earning a mint while working at double-time-and-a-half, as I overheard one Easter enthusiast on the bus this afternoon) wants the benefits of new life without the way of the cross. This makes for a shallow spirituality that avoids giving offense because it refuses to take offense at the cross, or simply refuses to look at the dying places of the world. The only path to life is through the valley of the shadow of death. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed (John 12.24). Or, as the St Andrews Cathedral School motto puts it, Via crucis, via lucis.

10 comments:

Craig Bennett said...

I don't see what the whole fuss is over Lent myself! :-(

As Christians shouldn't every day be a celebration of Christs death and resurrection?

This Sunday will be funny at my inlaw's as they don't normally give two hoots about Christ and Christianity, but some of them will have been religiously fasting something for lent and we will ask them why?

byron smith said...

As Christians shouldn't every day be a celebration of Christs death and resurrection?
Yes.

And no. Although every day is lived in the way of the cross and the hope of resurrection, we do not, at every point of every day, focus equally on every aspect of this. The Christian calendar is (amongst other things) an application of wisdom in order to guide us through the themes of the Christian life, giving rhythm to our lives and a focus for our meditation and obedience.

byron smith said...

As for your inlaws: I assume your aim is not simply to shame them out of their practice by making them feel silly for not understanding it, but to help them discover the depth and richness in their cultural habits (whose meaning they have forgotten), revealing the shape of the gospel in their lived experience.

Craig Bennett said...

I can certainly say that it won't be to shame them. Though there is no rich depth to their cultural habits in praying to mary and the saints whom they focus on.

Hopefully it will be more of an engagement with them in how Christ has set us free from all religiosity and that through Him we have both total access to the Father and complete forgiveness of sins.

I'm not sure what you mean by giving rhythm to our lives?

Joshua said...

Any points for recognising the city in the photo as Sydney? The sun is shining between Governor Philip Tower and Aurora Place.

byron smith said...

Though there is no rich depth to their cultural habits in praying to mary and the saints whom they focus on.
On the contrary, though I think there is much that is misleading about the practice, there is still much that is good: the respect paid to faithful witnesses who serve as secondary examples of the diversity of what a holy life can look like; the honour paid to Mary, blessed among women; the expression of trust and humility in seeking the guidance and help of others. The problem is where each of these expressions comes to detract from the primacy and uniqueness of Christ as mediator, the very fact to which Mary and the saints testify.

Rhythm - the traditional church year is divided into seasons (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity) so that we spend time reflecting on different elements of the gospel narrative. The aim is a balanced life that is attentive to the whole flow of the good news of Jesus. Like the liturgy and the lectionary, this is intended to liberate the community from the whims of a pastor. It is a reminder that we do not mark or experience time like the rest of society, that national holidays are not the primary temporal pattern of our years. So, just as there is a rhythm to the day (a regular pattern of sleeping, rising, working, eating and resting), and to the week, so also the year has a pattern, a rhythm. Not every hour of the day is the same. Not every day of the year is the same.

That said: Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike. Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. Those who regard one day as special do so to the Lord. Those who eat meat do so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and those who abstain do so to the Lord and give thanks to God. - Romans 14.6-7

I used to be in the latter camp, but have now moved to the former. Both are true and are required in different circumstances. At the reformation, possibly a rediscovery of the holiness of secular, ordinary time was important. Today, with the market driving us to abandon all distinctions between days so that the workforce is infinitely flexible in order to be maximally productive, I wonder whether we need to rediscover the importance of seasons and rhythms to life.

byron smith said...

Joshua - no points for Sydney (a little too easy), but I'll give you five for picking the buildings. It might have been more if you'd waited till I had offered points.

Craig Bennett said...

Today, with the market driving us to abandon all distinctions between days so that the workforce is infinitely flexible in order to be maximally productive, I wonder whether we need to rediscover the importance of seasons and rhythms to life.

This is an important question. Though could it be said that the past rhythms of life were more cultural rather than God ordained?

To me it seems that the rhythm that God ordained for life was walking with Adam in the cool of the afternoon / night after his days work and most possibly even keeping a sabbath though there is no record of Adam keeping one.

Market driven busyness is something that even affects the church, the church program, evangelistic strategy, home group etc which causes us to think that some of our busyness is Christian activity against our more secular pursuits.

A question I would ask regarding Lent is does it help slow down the market driven busyness of life instilling needed and regular rhythm into ones life, or does it produce a sense of duty that one has done or needs to do and with normal activity taking place afterwards?

Another question to ask is how does the rest of society view Lent? Indifference, suspicion, superstition,confusion and does the churches promotion of it help or hinder our engagement with society?

I agree we should learn to respect all who have gone before us in Christendom and we can learn much from them. I think there is a huge difference between praying to a person and and trusting them to answer or take our prayers for us to God.

Craig Bennett said...

Oops I should have said a big difference between respecting a person and trusting / praying..

byron smith said...

Busyness is an important problem, but a second (and related issue) is the homogenization of time into regular, interchangeable units, as though one time is much like another.

A question I would ask regarding Lent is does it help slow down the market driven busyness of life instilling needed and regular rhythm into ones life, or does it produce a sense of duty that one has done or needs to do and with normal activity taking place afterwards?
Good question, though remember, I'm not just talking about Lent, but the entire church calendar. Duty need not be a dirty word, though there can be misdirected and enslaving forms of it.

Another question to ask is how does the rest of society view Lent? Indifference, suspicion, superstition,confusion and does the churches promotion of it help or hinder our engagement with society?
More good questions, though if negative connotations were discovered, would this mean we ought to ditch it or continue to proclaim the good news of our liberation from superficial and mass-produced consumer "happiness"? One of the wonderful things about Lent is that it provides permission to grieve, and direction and focus to our grief too. Blessed are those that mourn. For some, I think this is a relief. For others, a reminder that though life might feel sweet now for me, it does not for others. The Christian calendar encourages us to share the full range of our emotions by finding their place in the gospel story as it is explored during the course of the year.