What is Easter, really?

According to The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Hirsch, Kett & Trefil, 1988), Easter is a holiday that every American needs to know about. Easter is a social construct, too.  That’s right; it is a made-up holiday celebrated differently by diverse people around the world. It’s considered a most holy day, along with Christmas, for Christ-followers, but people make up how they choose to celebrate it. When I first read Berger and Luckmann’s landmark social science book, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, I had a hard time accepting that much of our reality is socially constructed. I am a huge proponent of free will. But as time went on, I realized the theory holds much truth. How we live life—largely what we believe and why we believe it—is passed on to us culturally. That’s right, we make stuff up! We make up our culture, values, customs, ways of life, language, and to a large extent, our thought patterns. For the most part, we accept what we grew up with. We live life through social constructs I contend that the social construction of reality is not a bad thing, and does not make the reality behind a celebration or practice any less true. Easter is not just a holy day, it is a holy season. Coinciding with spring in the northern hemisphere, (where most of our Easter traditions came from), it follows a 40-day period called Lent, which since ancient times has been set aside as a season of penance and reflection, where believers are encouraged to make sacrifices and engage in acts of goodness. In this way, Christians are prepared to remember the sacrificial death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ who was both God and man in one being. Lent culminates in Holy Week, which starts with Palm Sunday (remembering Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem), then continues with Maundy Thursday (remembering the Passover supper Jesus had with his disciples and his washing of their feet), and Good Friday (remembering when Christ was executed), and finally celebrating Easter, when Christ rose from the dead. Lenten and Easter practices seem to be very ancient. In his “History of Lent” (2002), Fr. Saunders cited a letter to the Pope written in A.D. 203 commenting on the differences between how Easter was celebrated in the East and West: “The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers.” Many Christian customs were either borrowed from other religions or simply made up. The use of incense, visual depictions (crosses, crucifixes, icons, painting, sculptures), church architecture and many other things were used to help people connect to God. As someone pointed out, the use of “bells” and “smells” helped illiterate congregants throughout history connect with a God who isn’t tangible. Like the rest of the church calendar, dates were set aside to remind Christ-followers of many of the important aspects of the New Testament, which chronicles the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the early church. Other “holy days,” which we have come to call “holidays,” include Advent and Christmas (leading up to and celebrating the birth of Christ), Epiphany (celebrating the incarnation of Christ and the visit by the Magi), and Pentecost (remembering the outpouring of God’s spirit on early believers shortly after Christ’s return to God the Father). A basic tenant of Christianity is that God is made up of three distinct persons, designated Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. These three do not exist or operate in an authoritarian structure, but by relationship and communication. Unlike Christmas,...

What Does It Mean?

These few days are undoubtedly the most important in the Christian calendar; they are centerpieces of the faith. But there is no one-way to view the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. That said, I think it’s important to think about. I contend that how you view Jesus’ death and resurrection reflects on your view of God and how you related to the Divine. In his book, Across the Spectrum: Understanding issues in Evangelical Theology, Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy devote an entire chapter on “The Atonement Debate.” There they outline the three main perspectives: The Christus Victor View (Christ destroyed Satan and his works) The Penal Substitution View (Christ dies in our place) The Moral Government View (Christ displayed God’s wrath against sin) Here, in a nutshell, is an overview of these perspectives. Then I will make a case for something more simplistic that may work even better for you. According to Boyd and Eddy, the Christus Victor view was the most popular until the Middle Ages. It was based on the idea that, “Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated Satan and thus set humankind free from his oppressive rule” (Boyd & Eddy, p. 114). Later John Calvin and Martin Luther developed the Penal Substitution view, that Jesus took on the punishment that humankind deserved. One must understand, however, that Calvin was an attorney, so he saw everything in legal terms. For him, there was a debt to be paid, and Jesus paid it. The problem I have with this view is that it turns our relationship with God into a transaction. A transaction is that I put down money at the store and I get to take the milk home. However, everything about scripture tells me that God is interested in transformation,...

Live Intentionally

Do you struggle with keeping a healthy perspective? I have made multiple changes in my life in the past couple of years. After traveling extensively to teach and produce videos for non-profits all over the world, I am now focusing on teaching in the U.S. (in addition to blogging and podcasting). A challenge is to keep thinking globally while working locally. It is so easy for us to become myopic (narrow-minded) and me-focused. This plays on a theme my community college studied this week: emotions. It’s so easy for our minds and emotions to go places that are small-minded and self-serving. We have to be intentional to maintain the big picture, remember the goals we have set, and be other-focused. I found the following a timely message for you and myself. “It is often tempting to look at the lives of many great Christian figures and assume that the reason they were able to live their impressive lives was because they were simply better people than you are me. However, as we study these figures, we find that more often than not, the only difference between us and them is the future they saw and were fighting for. Whenever we become short-sighted to the point of only focusing on our bank statements, deadlines, and Netflix queue, we are bound to live uninspired lives.”* Take a moment to reassess, re-grab the larger perspective and live intentionally.   * Quote from Rusty Gates, M.Div. The Cycle of Life: A Lenten Devotional (Sunday before Easter) from Bloom Church in Denver. Royalty-free image by Johan Borg of Sweden; retrieved from: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/406855...

Spiritual Adjustment

Self-reflection penitence are long-standing traditions in many faiths and cultures. There seems to be a common understanding that human beings are flawed and need periodic adjustments to live good and faithful lives. This week marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Lent includes the 47 days leading up to Easter, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It is actually 40 days plus seven Sundays. (Remember that 40 is the number of days Jesus fasted and spent time in the dessert seeking God.) Other faiths have similar traditions. Muslims celebrate Ramadan, a month of fasting, charitable giving and prayer in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. It is also during this time that many make their pilgrimage to Mecca to participate in the Hajj, a trip every Muslim must make at least once during their lifetime. During the Hajj, Muslims engage in purification and unity. The Arabic word Tawbah literally means, “turning around.” In addition to celebrating Passover, Jews participate in the Days of Awe, ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is a time for serious reflection, a chance to consider the previous year, and to repent. The Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) concept of repentance means to literally a 180-degree turn towards God. According to the website, Judaism 101, “Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the year. The Talmud maintains that Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.”* During Lent, many people (especially Catholics) give up something they enjoy, like sugar, alcohol or movies. These are types of fasts. Lent is not a time to prove to God that you love Him (or manipulate Him to love you–because She/He already does), rather it’s a time to reflect, search your soul, and make amends. If fasting is something that is meaningful to you, then do it. But more important is to reflect, pray, and perhaps engage in rituals (such as Lenten services). It might be a good time to go on a spiritual retreat. Take time. Find a resource that will be helpful for reflection and meditation. It’s good to take time to reconnect with your spiritual center, reflect on the past and renew your soul.   * http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday3.htm Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostration...