How can Easter possibly be a laughing matter?
This past Easter Sunday I learned something from my pastor I have never heard before: Easter Monday is the day we celebrate God stealing the darkness from the enemy, for His son shines the light over His dominion forever. The Resurrection took the sting out of death, while becoming the greatest “sting” operation ever. We can laugh about it as the ancient Christian’s did and feel great joy.
Easter has more meaning for me this year than any other because of the Lenten study and readings that helped prepare me to write devotionals for my church. Always a happy student because I enjoy learning, I had never done this kind of preparation in quite such a focused way until I was asked to prepare devotionals for Advent. The interest in writing about my faith at all was fueled by about a year-long study of both Dietrich Bonhoeffer, famed theologian and martyr during WWII, and Dallas Willard, philosophy professor and theologian who wrote The Divine Conspiracy.
Specifically, reading author Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer this year awakened an interest in theology and how it manifested itself in how one person lived out his faith. I picked up the Bonhoeffer book in my favorite place to buy books, a thrift shop. For a couple of dollars I chose this massive paperback and yes; it has photographs! The author’s style of writing is lively and pulls the reader into the story in an immediate immersion of Bonhoeffer’s life. I thoroughly enjoyed the details about his family’s interesting home life, their intellectual pursuits, but mostly about Bonhoeffer’s focus on the individual’s personal relationship with Christ. Bonhoeffer struggled within himself as a student in New York divinity school while Jews were dying and the church was being taken over by the Nazis.
The bravery of some of the German pastors who tried to make the German church leaders see the fault in complying with the Nazis was so courageous. I enjoyed reading Bonhoeffer’s letters. I felt sad for his young fiancé when he was executed soon before the Allies won the war. I wondered why Bonhoeffer would push forward with their relationship when he knew he would most likely be killed for standing up to the Nazis. I have come to believe he needed the hope her visits brought him in order to continue ministering to the other prisoners and the Nazis who guarded him right up unto his death. Hitler was not going to let this warrior for Christ survive no matter how close to the collapse of the Third Reich Bonhoeffer’s death would be. And it was close.
While these books have been most instructive, it has been the actual reading of the Bible—study of it, that is, that has given me a sense of real engagement with Easter and its meaning for me as a Christian. I am not a stranger to the Bible at all, especially in the last decade under the leadership of a very learned preacher and teacher. However, I have not learned to pray over its meaning in terms of teaching it to others, or even sharing it at the very moment and way that it can bring another human being to Christ. I strive to learn to share my faith in a very personal way with my own children and grandchildren in a more sincere and loving way so they may know the love of Christ. I am trying to talk about my beliefs and my faith with other believers, especially those who walk deeply and wholly in their faith. If we don’t learn to speak confidently and openly about Him, when will we seize the chance to pass this on to those we hold dear, and even to those we don’t “hold” at all?
Because Christ’s dying and resurrection conquered death, God has the last word.
My pastor’s introduction to the concept of laughter and joy on Easter Monday changes a long-misunderstood idea about the Christmas (Christ birth event) and the cross that has left me perplexed about why I felt sad at Christmas and unsure about Easter. Sometime in my teens, I found I could not quite recapture the excitement about Christmas that I had loved feeling as a child. We didn’t get loads of presents, but each was very personal. One year we got matching pioneer dresses my mother made us, along with baby dolls. I received a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. My little sister received a copy of Farmer Boy. For more than five years we played pioneers—yes, with dolls up until seventh grade! Our neighbor friends played with us in elaborate wagon train and prairie town scenarios. It was imaginative, pure fun. The neighborhood boys rode their “horses” (bikes) through the settlements and made our pioneer play even more lively.
But soon preteen and teenage phases interrupted this innocent time, and life seemed more complicated. Over time I began to think how sad it was that Jesus’ life was so short, and especially how he died. Though I heard many wonderful messages and enjoyed family get together, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that the fun of the seasonal trappings came back through their eyes. I love Christmas carols and medieval harp music, and certainly the long road trips ending with family hugs, but a hint of sadness still prevailed.
Some of this mid-year melancholy I can attribute to Seasonal Adjustment Order, but the core of the issue was not fully understanding that without the cross, there could be no resurrection. Jesus had to fulfill his mission, and He did. The joy is in the completion of His mission so that he could take on our sins. God is mysterium, and it is not His will that we understand him, even if we were capable, which we’re not. Mercifully, He loves us and forgives us. It is so humbling that He cares for His children as He does. Precious Jesus took on death for us, and won. The very least we can do is read the Bible to learn more about why He is called the Lamb of God. It does not have to be a droll, solemn, joyless exercise, as some imply, or as perhaps we even thought. It can be an experience of incredible humility and joy. My pastor put it best by referencing St. Augustine, who said, “The cross was the devil’s mousetrap.”
So next year as I prepare for Advent, Christmas, Lent and the repentance it encourages, and Easter, I will be enlightened as to the circular interdependence of one event upon the other. Christ broke into the history of the world, and by doing this he exists with us in the present, while giving us a “foretaste of glory divine.” Hallelujah!
Note: I read Mark and John, with forays into Matthew and comparisons of the four gospels. I didn’t feel ready to interject too many of my own thoughts, but had many questions for my pastor and other students of the Bible. A Christian teacher and friend tells me he reads scripture through first, taking notes for further prayer and study as he goes along. How will you approach the greatest opportunity for transformation that will ever be offered? Ask someone to help you, your pastor, or if you don’t have one, ask someone to refer you to a Christian who will share this privilege with you. It will change you.