(I am, with the writing of this blog, indebted to words from Nadia Bolz-Weber and other theologians who have dared to say, “We have to talk about this another way,” to the pastor of my own church, and to my parents, who never taught me in the first place that God’s love for me required Jesus to die on a cross so I could be saved from my own awfulness. This, I believe, makes me one of the lucky ones.)
I’ve never believed the “traditional” and/or “orthodox” version of Easter–the one that says Jesus’ death on the cross was part of some divine plan that had to happen the way it did because otherwise we poor hopeless sinners could never be redeemed. This has often gotten me in trouble professionally. It has also meant profound discomfort on my part most Easter Sundays.
For Christians the world over, no matter their particular brand of Christianity, this is Holy Week–the days between our celebration of Palm Sunday and our celebration of Easter, and I am, once again, struggling to figure out my place in all of it. Mostly, though, I’m struggling with how to help my daughter understand why this week matters. Because I believe it does, even in my unorthodoxy. I don’t struggle with this alone–her father is a fine pastor who also teaches her well about faith, but it does matter to me what she hears from me…what she sees me do and react to and experience through this Holy Week. Because despite the fact that there will be bunnies and a new dress and chocolate eggs and jelly beans in her life this week that isn’t really what it is all about.
And I think maybe I’ve found some clarity about how I’ll tell her, when she’s ready, that this Easter story, it is a powerful one, and it has been interpreted and understood all sorts of ways. Some of which I think are so harmful. But it is also, at its very essence, a story of hope. A story of trust in the inherent goodness of this world, a story that proclaims once and forever more that love wins. In the end, always, love wins.
What I want her to know is this:
- That she is a beautiful and mighty creation of a God who loves her. Period.
- That though she will make mistakes in this life, likely even sin, there is nothing that can ever separate her from God’s love for her. Period.
- That the person Jesus was is more than we’ll ever understand, and no formula of “God sent Jesus to die so that we could be forgiven,” will ever equal the sum total that is Jesus’ life–a life that stood in the face of abuse and scorn and discrimination and legal manipulation and tyrannical power and said, “No. This is not what God meant for the world.” And he kept saying it until they killed him. THAT is love and compassion, my friends. THAT is redemption beyond anything we could ever construct with our own limited theologies and view points. THAT is so much more than a debt transaction.
- That the love God has for her is the same love that God has for everyone. Period. Her Hindu friend she plays with on warm spring evenings. The two mommies of her friend at school. The transgender classmate. Our friend Adam serving a sentence for robbery at a state prison down south. Family members we might struggle to get along with. Our friends grieving the loss of their granddaughter. The kids that go home with backpacks of food over the weekend so that they’ll have enough to eat. God’s love for her is the same love that God has for everyone. Period.
- And finally…that this love God has for her…it is wider and deeper and full of more mercy than anyone of us can truly grasp. And this is precisely what makes it worth telling about and standing up against injustice and evil in the name of.
These are the things that matter to me this Holy Week. I don’t care about the particulars, the supposed facts, of it all. I don’t care about the trumpets or the lilies (though I do, inexplicably, love the music and will sing it all weekend long, even if I don’t agree with it theologically–and this, I suspect, has more to do with a lifetime of church more than anything). And I certainly don’t care to have recounted to me how I should fall on my knees in gratitude because God “loves” me enough to sacrifice God’s son for me.
Because here’s the thing–an empty tomb is just a nice story, a script for pomp and circumstance, if the story isn’t translated into the unconditional, all-encompassing, purely graceful love that led to it in the first place.