Christmas is overrated, and Easter is underrated.
In our culture, even among Christians, we tend to deemphasize Easter. Unlike Christmas, it’s a truly “religious” holiday. There’s nothing associated with it that appeals to adults apart from its spiritual meaning. Bunnies and eggs are fun for kids, but no one older than 10 really cares about that stuff, the way we do with Christmas trees and presents or, disturbingly, dressing up for Halloween.
For Christians, Resurrection Sunday and the Good Friday that precedes it, are the most important days on the Christian calendar. These are our liberation days, celebrating our freedom and reconciliation with the God who made us, all made possible by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, who washed away the stain of our sin, giving us new life, and binding death.
But, I wonder if the rest of our culture would celebrate this most holy of days if they remembered how it changed everything, for all of us? And, I wonder if we would rejoice more if we reflected on the impact of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection on all of life?
I was thinking about this today. Christ’s Resurrection established the Church. The Church was weird; its people thought about things in whole new ways, inspired by their leader, this dead rabbi they claimed rose from the dead. They had been commanded to love, and they had been transformed to love in radical new ways. When others would let the sick, suffering, and unwanted infants alone to die because of their weakness, these followers of Jesus began taking care of these people, people too weak to care for themselves. Eventually, Christian religious orders would found hospitals and orphanages, the first such institutions that now exist all over the western world. These notions of care and concern for the poor, the marginalized, and the weak were the beginnings of what we know as social justice. The whole idea of caring for the weaker brother was brought about by the upside down Kingdom of Christ.
In antiquity, literacy was the privilege of the extremely wealthy or highly privileged; most of the world was deprived of the ability to read and write. But, God’s people were people of the Word. They had been given a revelation by God, a great story of His redemptive work among them, with implications for how they lived and loved each other. It was important that they read, so they began teaching each other. Schools were formed; monasteries later sprung up where monks taught others to learn, and by the 12th century, a new Christian invention, the university, was formed. These institutions devoted to higher learning, whose professors were all in holy orders, were organized by the Christian concept that God revealed Himself to man progressively, and that man discovered new knowledge as God revealed, that progress was a part of God’s order, and that new ideas and inventions an expected part of life. From the medieval universities arose the Scholastic movement, from which the seeds of modern science would arise.
In his study of Philippians, Matt Chandler makes the observation that the first members of the church at Philippi were Lydia, a wealthy Asian fashionista, a slave girl, and a Roman jailer. Talk about an odd trio. Yet, from Acts 13, when the church expanded from the Jews to the Gentiles, the Church has always been about taking people who are very different, even those who by nature are sworn enemies of each other, and commanding them by the love of Christ to be reconciled, to live in community, to understand each other, and to love each other. This radical concept of unity in diversity, and the idea that everyone, even those not like me, are made in the image of God, worthy of being discipled and grafted onto the root of Israel, and have dignity, value, and worth, is at the root of every equality movement over the past two millennia. These are concepts that do not exist in other, homogeneous cultures where Christianity either did not take root or was severely persecuted. Whether racial and cultural equality, the rights of women, or immigrants’ rights, all of these movements are rooted in Christian soil.
I could write forever about generosity, or the conditions giving rise to capitalism (like the rule of law and property rights), or modern day democracy (like limiting the power of states and kings), or dozens of other innovations. I could even mention the ways we think that we don’t think about, like our ability to reason because we are created from a rational God, or our concept that there must be a right answer, because the truth is “out there,” outside of us, somewhere, or the idea that life must have meaning, that we know and feel deep in our bones. All of these are rooted in Christian, western thought.
I understand that the Church is messed up. Always has been. We’re a bunch of hypocrites; we screw up; we try, and fail, and ask forgiveness, and fail again. All of this is exactly what the gospel says we are, exactly why Good Friday had to happen, and why Resurrection Sunday is such game-changing, earth-shattering good news. But, if you’re going to accept all of that, you have to also accept that social justice, and education, and property rights, and the rule of law, and equality, and generosity, and capitalism, and modern day democracy, heck, nearly everything that makes us, well, us, was also birthed that amazing weekend 2,000 years ago. And, that God has and will continue to expand His Kingdom through His people until He comes again, at which point we will all reign with Him forever.
And, that’s cause for serious celebration. No matter who you are.