SURPRISED BY EASTER
Written by Doug Ponder on March 24, 2016
Easter Time Is Here
Like most Americans, I have tons of warm memories from Christmastime. There was never any doubt in my mind that it was “the most wonderful time of the year.” But the older I’ve gotten, the more this has changed. My love for Christmas has not gotten smaller; my love for Easter has gotten bigger.
Admittedly, this surprising development will seem odd to many. After all, when it comes to holidays Christmas is the undisputed champ by almost every measure:
Tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow, always find it hard to sleep before Christmas, but almost never not before Easter.
Christmas means cookies and office parties and dinner invitations. Easter is lucky to get one meal.
Christmas songs fill the air from Thanksgiving through the New Year, yet most people can’t name even one “Easter song.”
Christmas time off from work and almost universal store closings (except for gas stations and hospitals). With Easter it’s just business as usual.
Christmas traditions reinforce the central point of the holiday (the gift of God with us), but Easter traditions involve bizarre bunnies and plastic eggs filled with terrible tasting candy.
And the greatest measure of all: the National Retail Federation estimates that Americans spend over $600 billion each year on Christmas gifts, decorations, food items, and festivities. We only spend a little more than $15 billion at Easter—forty times less!
Always Christmas But Never Easter
In his beloved fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis wrote about a cursed world where it was ‘always winter but never Christmas.’ But judging by the way we celebrate, it seems our world is always Christmas but never Easter.
Maybe that claim is a tad too strong. Still, the disparity between our celebration of Christmas and Easter is remarkable for a significant reason: Easter is what makes Christmas worth celebrating in the first place!
Without Easter, there would be no cross and no resurrection. And no cross and no resurrection would mean there’s no forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7), no reconciliation between God and man (2 Cor. 5:18), no victory over Satan and the forces of darkness (1 Cor. 15:24), no end to sickness or sadness or death (Rev. 21:4-5), and no hope of life with God forever (John 14:3).
Without Easter, Christmas would be reduced to the gift of the God-who-used-to-be-with-us but now is gone forever. The impact of Jesus’ life would be little more than some true words spoken and a few illnesses healed. But there would be no lasting kingdom, for there’d be no reigning King.
Author Eugene Peterson captures the heart of Paul the apostle’s logic in his letter to the church in Corinth: “If Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:17-20).
That’s what a world of Christmas without Easter would be like.
Taking Back Easter (Sunday)
Of course, it’s not realistic to expect corporate offices, local businesses, the music industry (etc.) to give as much attention to Easter as they give to Christmas. But that doesn’t mean Christians can’t find meaningful ways to celebrate the hugeness of this holiday.
My own family has begun an ever-expanding tradition of throwing an Easter feast fit for the halls of a king. We take our cue from the prophet Isaiah, whose words about the future of God’s kingdom come to life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He writes:
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of well-aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will swallow up
the covering that is cast over all people,
the veil that spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Lord God will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
So each Easter we spring for the best cuts of beef and the finest of wines, we decorate our home with flowers (the sign of new life freshly burst forth from the ground), we dye eggs the color of the blood that sets us free, and we invite as many guests as we can fit in our house.
When the preparations are finished, I read the passage from Isaiah cited above, we thank God for the death and resurrection of Christ, and then we feast! We take from the grill the fatty steaks and the marinated lamb, we uncork bottles of Beaujolais and Cabernet Franc, and we finish with desserts sweeter than the drippings of the honeycomb.
We do all this because Easter means life and joy and celebration without end. “He the Lord for we the least, Him devoured so we can feast.” Easter means God will swallow up death forever: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). Easter means practicing the banquet of the ages, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, when all God’s people will feast together and shout his praises so loudly that it sounds like the roar of rushing water.
And if all that is what Easter truly means, then surely it’s worthy of a glorious celebration. Happy Easter, friends!
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works by various authors. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.