What has Easter meant to me?
Easter, in my evangelical tradition, was kind of the pinnacle of the year. Easter meant that death itself was defeated, and we would live forever. (Except there’s a chance that you could live forever in eternal torment, but hey, that’s not the point of Easter, come on!)
Easter meant that our God – you know, the best God (I mean, sorry, the only true God) – could conquer and defy death and live again. In a physical way, but only for a little over a month until he left again… and still hasn’t come back… But that’s beside the point. And we won’t have a physical body after our resurrection, just a spiritual one.
A spiritual body in heaven, you know, where we’ll be happy. But some of our loved ones won’t be there, if they didn’t believe the correct way. But apparently we won’t care about them anymore, because we will be in worship all the time, too transfixed to do anything else, for all of eternity.
(Ok, does that not freak anyone else out?! Seriously. I get cold chills imagining that).
So, what happened to all the people before then, before Jesus conquered death? Were they in some kind of purgatory, then get into heaven? Did they get a free pass in since the Jesus story wasn’t around to believe in yet? Wait, what about people now who don’t hear the Jesus story in their lives? That doesn’t seem fair, to send them all to hell just because they didn’t get a chance to hear the Easter story… Surely that’s not what my loving, compassionate God would do, right?
As I think about the Easters of my past and what it meant to me, I think about these questions. As someone who had read the Bible multiple times and attended church so regularly, I certainly had questions. As someone who took her evangelical faith seriously, I had these questions. And, to answer these questions within the framework of evangelical teachings, I had to use what I refer now as mental gymnastics.
(I know that other traditions of Christianity have different answers to the questions I listed above – a big one that fixes a lot of these problems is believing that hell isn’t real, and that Jesus saved everyone for all time. Which makes a lot more sense. My main point in writing this is to explore how I’ve felt about Easter in the past and remember what it was like to have an evangelical’s brain, confronting these problems.)
The problem of living forever: how can it never end? I’ve written before about how terrifying this was to me. I decided that I can’t really understand what life in heaven would be like, so maybe there would always be new experiences to be had and ways to make eternal life still worth living. Because being unable to die seems, truly, like a fate worse than death.
The problem of not caring about loved ones who didn’t make it into heaven: what if someone I love didn’t believe the correct way? It lead to desperation to save others in my life, but there was the problem that apparently, since there’s no suffering or pain in heaven, I wouldn’t care about the souls in hell. Millions of people, some I knew and loved and had positive experiences with on earth; apparently I would be able to understand why this needed to happen so that it wouldn’t bother me, or just be too absorbed with God’s presence to care.
What about the people who lived before Jesus? I think I answered that they got a free pass and were in heaven.
What about the people who never heard the Jesus story? I used that line – that creation itself proclaims God’s existence – and reasoned that, if someone decided to “worship the God who created the stars,” then God would call that good enough and let them into heaven. Which is a very, very ignorant and limited view that gives no consideration to the different cultures of people in the world, the thousands of religious traditions… The idea that someone would just think, “Well, I need to worship something…” as if their culture didn’t use another framework or have other teachings about how life could be fulfilling, is so limited and evangelical-centric.
And then, there’s the central question to the Easter story: Why did Jesus have to die to save us from our sins?
Why is God so blood-thirsty? Requiring animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, and replacing it with the blood of his son, who is actually himself, because no one else is good enough. Why do it with sacrifice anyway? There could be so many other ways to “save us.” Have us… I don’t know. Plant a tree every year. Adopt an animal and care for it (don’t kill it!). Use fasting, prayer, pilgrimage, donate to charity, and try to right wrong deeds (or ask forgiveness), like Islam teaches. In Buddhism, the path to enlightenment (a kind of salvation) involves morality, meditation, and wisdom (isn’t that just a more palatable path than the killing of animals?).
Nope, it has to be blood. Blood, blood, blood. What can wash away my sin?
My old answer to why it had to be blood: we can’t understand God. God works in mysterious ways. We just have to trust Him.
What does Easter mean to me now?
Honestly, not a whole lot. And that’s ok. It never meant as much as it was supposed to to me anyway, even when I was a Christian, because it just lead me to think about the problems in my faith.
Sure, I could use it to celebrate spring, or rebirth, or renewal, or all these things that it means to other people, but I kind of prefer New Years to celebrate renewal, and spring is fine but I don’t feel like it needs a special holiday (and I’d rather celebrate spring by taking a hike in the woods on a clear warm day than by eating chocolate with my religious family.)
What does Easter mean to you?