Many years ago on a spring morning, I was hustling my daughter and me through our morning routine: she needed to get to preschool, and I needed to get to an early meeting. I buckled her into her booster seat, threw my laptop case and briefcase into the front seat, and started backing out of the driveway. While I was in this distracted state, my 4-year-old asked me, “When is the Easter Bunny coming?” Without thinking, I answered hastily, “There is no Easter Bunny.”
My daughter started crying loudly. I slammed on the brakes and said, “Oh, honey, don’t cry! It’s okay! On Easter, Jesus is raised from the dead!”
She shrieked even louder. I was late for work that day as I reconstructed my Easter narrative to include a non-zombie Jesus and an Easter bunny that brings chocolate eggs.
Easter, the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, is the highest point of the church year, and for many Christians, the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter are deeply spiritual moments. The liturgies of Holy Week invite us to take the walk of those final days alongside Jesus, to recreate them as a present reality that we experience ourselves. We relive the betrayal, the disciples’ fear, the pain of wrongful imprisonment and crucifixion, and then the startling, unbelievable news of the resurrection.
As we engage in these communal practices surrounding the deepest mysteries of our faith, we discover that something is being done to us in the process. We don’t have to name or know what that something is. Call it Spirit, call it Christ, call it resurrection and healing and love and mystery. Or give it no name at all and just let it happen.
Nor does everyone agree about what happened on Easter morning. Some Christians think of the resurrection as spiritual, as metaphor. For many of us Christians, the experience of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (and some notion of the bodily resurrection of created beings) is the cornerstone of our belief. In Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews, Kevin Madigan and Jon D. Levenson trace the many deep connections between Judaism and Christianity on the notion of resurrection and the meaning of eternal life. Both religious traditions express an idea of a “transformed” body, not simply a disembodied spiritual existence.
And both religions contain a notion of resurrection and restoration of the kingdom of God happening not necessarily in some other dimension, but rather in the here and now. N.T. Wright echoes this notion in Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. He writes that the hope given to Christians by the bodily, “transphysical” resurrection of Jesus inspires us to the Church’s mission: to be a part of the healing presence of God as we co-create heaven here.
In an interview in the New York Times, UC Riverside professor of philosophy Howard Wettstein, a practicing Jew, emphasizes that the practice of religion draws us into something greater than the propositions we may or may not agree with. In our religious practice, we have an “experience of God, for example in prayer or in life’s stunning moments. Prayer, when it works, yields an awe-infused sense of having made contact, or almost having done so.” It can also lead us to a feeling of being in league with God, of dreaming along with God.
The spiritual practices of Holy Week offer us some of those stunning moments of dreaming along with God. The services that culminate in the Great Easter Vigil and Easter morning beckon us to act out the narrative of our life in God, and God’s life with us in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God encounters the monstrous and tragic aspects of humanity and transforms them into the most joyous and wondrous. Through Jesus, God invites us to do the same.
May you experience a profound awe, wonder and joy in the living God this Easter season.