I know this is tough. Staying home, the barrage of scary news, fearing for the health and well-being of loved ones far away, the grim facts reported on the loss of life. It is more than tough, and at times it feels never ending. But, interspersed with the tragedy are signs of hope, compassion, kindness and perseverance that offer encouragement and frequently bring tears to my eyes. The stories of grandparents dressing in a mix of garbage bags and duct tape so they can hug their family members, the way cities cheer together for the essential workers at 7pm every night, the parades and other shows of support and appreciation that police and fire fighters offer up to hospital workers as well as people stuck at home. These pockets of joy are a welcome break and a boost of hope in the midst of everything else. I pray that you are home, well, and have a couple of numbers of people to call and connect with every day.
Showtime has been added for free to my cable offerings for the past month. I saw “The Man Who Invented Christmas” - it’s on A LOT. In it, we see how a strange set of circumstances leads Dickens to write “A Christmas Carol”. This surprising story popularized the notion of compassion and generosity and links these behaviors with “Christmas Spirit” in a way that continues today. Christmas Spirit is so needed, the Hallmark Channel has resumed its presentation of cheerful and heartwarming Christmas movies. Sirius satellite radio has resumed a Christmas channel as well. It’s practically Christmas in April!
Why is Christmas experiencing a resurgence? Why has the message of Easter been largely ignored? My answer is because Dickens brought to Christmas a message of hope tied to compassion and generosity that all could attain and experience. “He is Born! Merry Christmas!” Why do we not celebrate a season of “He is Risen! Happy Easter!” Because we think it too shameful to need forgiveness in the first place? Because we have shunted our participation in the trial and execution of Jesus to “the Jews” and “The Romans”? Has our own Anti-Semitism and xenophobia robbed us of the joy of Easter? The reason we don’t celebrate it is perhaps because we haven’t grasped the depth of forgiveness and joy within the statement: He is Risen!
We need a new Dickens for Easter. Because we have just re-told the story of Holy Week and *Spoiler alert* the ending is exactly the message everyone needs to hear, feel and embrace. Especially now, being shut up in our homes and afraid, we need to hear and celebrate the Easter story. In troubled and political times, an outsider came with a group of followers and offered a new way to live and to love God. He was arrested, beaten and publicly executed. The people that he came to love and teach at times wanted to hear his good news, but when the going got tough, they scattered like cockroaches at the flick of a light switch. The people he came to heal and help, cried out and demanded his execution. He was put to death on a Friday.
On Sunday the good news began slowly. His women friends came to tend to his body and found that the grave was empty! Gradually the world would come to know that we had executed the Son of God and that he rose from the grave to teach us that nothing could separate us from the love of God, nothing!
The message of Easter is one of radical forgiveness and promise of salvation. It doesn’t require proper belief or perfect actions. It’s summarized in “He is Risen!” We need to remember and reclaim the radical forgiveness that the phrase represents. When we know the grave is empty, we know that forgiveness is ours. This message is ours personally and it's ours collectively. Either Jesus died on the cross for humanity to know salvation or he didn’t. When we believe it - we must recognize it’s far reaching implications. This is Jesus offering his life and labors for all of humanity - whether or not we understand, or accept, or believe. And when we do believe we can live into the message of love and forgiveness that he offered us before his death! This is the joy of Easter - more radically freeing than Scrooge hearing the bells on Christmas morning - more than the heart of the Grinch growing 3 sizes, the joy of Easter frees us to new levels of understanding forgiveness and grace.
Which leads me back to - we need a new Dickens for Easter. We need a voice to take the message of forgiveness and new life and popularize it into everyday life. Can you imagine? Swapping the Easter message from bunnies and chocolate (and peeps!) to being known and treasured as forgiveness for all. So, until there is a new Dickens, let your voice, your faith and your understanding of Easter ring out! Live as one fully forgiven and invite others to know this joy with you!