Every family’s closet has a skeleton or two, those awkward little curiosities of the past that most everyone would rather forget — but no one can.
Maybe it’s the weird uncle who collects unusually colored pieces of used chewing gum from the undersides of picnic tables and park benches.
Maybe it’s the second cousin who — in a drunken stupor — attempted to assault three law-enforcement officers with the business end of a high-heeled shoe and a traffic cone.
Or maybe your family has some distant connection to the worst president in our nation’s history. (What do you mean, “Who is that?” Warren G. Harding. Obviously.)
We, the family of Christ, have more than our fair share of these embarrassing little things buried in shallow graves all throughout our history. I don’t think I need to mention any names.
But one of the more uncomfortable facts of the Christian life, and one that we’re forced to confront again and again every year, is that our primo, No. 1, most sacred holiday isnamed after a pagan goddess, has an egg-laying, bowtie-wearing bunny for a mascot, and features about as much chocolate as a Tay Zonday single.
In the weeks before Easter, I’m sure that you, like me, encountered no less than 43 conservative family members, church friends or garrulous senior citizens at the bus stop complaining about how egg hunts and animal-shaped chocolate bars are ruining the sacredness of the holiday.
I think they’re right, in a way. I mean, celebrating the risen Christ certainly doesn’t seem to have all that much to do with rainbow-colored baskets or that weird green tinselly stuff that some deluded corporate executive apparently thinks looks like grass. (We should probably cut him some slack, whoever he is. He has obviously never been outside.)
But the problem with all the grumbling about the “pagan-ness” of Easter is that this is what is usually offered as an alternative: A somber, hours-long service, perhaps held at the crack of dawn, in which even we blue-jean-wearing evangelicals will be expected to, at least, consider donning a shirt that has buttons on it.
Hymns, organs, nice ladies decked out in fine hats and clean-cut young men in their Sunday best. This is what Easter is all about, they say.
And I say, I don’t think so. Here’s the thing: The Bible, in fact, says nothing about what an Easter celebration is “supposed to look like.” If you want to know how to observe the Feast of Sukkot, scripture tells us all about that, in great detail. But it offers no guidance on Easter.
And I think that’s kind of awesome, because it tells me that the early Christians who observed the first incarnation of what we today call “Easter” didn’t do so because they were “supposed to.”
Honestly, I think they celebrated Easter because they couldn’t help themselves. Because something amazing, something incredible, something straight-up impossible had occurred, and they were getting to be a part of it.
God became man, was put to death on a cross, and came back to life three days later, finally and irrevocably triumphing over death and releasing us from the terrible power in which we had been held by our sin.
I can’t say I blame them for putting together a little shindig. Sounds to me like a reason to party if there ever was one.
You see, I don’t think the secret to “reclaiming” Easter is to replace fun with solemnity. This is not at all to take away from the sacred spirit of remembering that empty tomb, but seriously, where do we get the idea that the less fun something is, the better worship it must be? Clearly not Philippians 4:4.
We need to put the celebration back into “Easter celebration.” Easter should be the hugest and greatest and most insane party the world has ever seen. It should be like that Super Bowl commercial with Arnold Schwarzenegger, times about a million.
Quite frankly, the church’s celebration of our risen Lord should make Mardi Gras in New Orleans look like a handful of 10-year-olds playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Otherwise, we’re doing something wrong.
Sure, the world will think we’re crazy. But so what? I’m pretty sure they’d think we’re just as crazy for getting up in the middle of the night to wear elaborate hats and sing worship songs before we eat potato salad together.
And, given the choice between the biggest party they’ve ever seen and a muted sunrise gathering, which one do you think they’d be more interested in being part of?
Today is Easter Sunday, and Jesus Christ is risen. Let the party begin.
An earlier version of this essay was published by Venn Magazine on April 15.