The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. This week we wanted to share our thoughts on the recent Easter holiday.
This morning, when my children woke up, there were no surprises from the Easter bunny in my house. I’ll admit that I’m ambivalent about telling my children that magical creatures sneak into our home in the middle of the night to leave them presents, but I did not neglect to celebrate this tradition in my home for any “holier than thou” reasons. I have just never figured out what I feel like is an appropriate Easter basket. I really don’t want Easter to be “Christmas lite,” I don’t like to give my children a lot of candy, they already have more stuffed animals than they can possibly play with, and I’m just left not really knowing what to do. So, I have just chosen to not participate in the tradition of the Easter basket.
Mercifully, my children are young enough that they don’t go to school every day, so they won’t go to school tomorrow and find out that the Easter bunny visited some of their friends, but for some reason skipped our house.
Nevertheless, I would like to share a few words in defense of the Easter bunny. I know you’ve all seen the “what do eggs and bunnies have to do with the resurrection of Jesus” posts on your social media accounts all week. And given my total failure to produce an Easter basket for my children in the course of their short but otherwise wonderful lives, I’m hardly the person to stand up for a tradition of magical bunnies leaving eggs and candy in your home.
But, in defense of the bunny – here is what I think: Yes, early Christians co-opted a pagan fertility festival because the vernal equinox (aka beginning of Spring) is really close to the Jewish celebration of Passover. It may have been an opportunistic way to retain more converts. But, on the other hand, look around you! If you live in the Northern hemisphere, Spring is in the air. Life is cropping up all around you! Flowers are blooming, everyone you know on Facebook is having a baby, and if you live in a place where you have an actual winter, I’m sure it feels like the world is waking up! Surely, whether the roots of the celebration are Christian or pagan, new life is something to celebrate!
I also think it’s weird that in our society where we use sex to sell literally everything (I listened to a radio commercial using sex to sell car insurance this week), we turn up our noses at the idea of a fertility festival.
Why should we give up this tradition? In our amazing modern world, we have many avenues for people struggling with infertility to seek medical help to have children, and it’s STILL crazy hard for some people to have babies. If I were an ancient druid struggling to have babies or my children had miraculously made it through the Winter, I might celebrate a burrow full of bunnies or a bird’s nest full of eggs, too – because, as I’m fond of saying when it comes to making and having babies: “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”
So…please forgive my blasphemy, but today, in addition to celebrating the new life available to me through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I also want to celebrate the new life that surrounds us at Spring time. With all things we can truly and legitimately be afraid of in the World today – Global Warming, nuclear war, extreme weather, intelligent robots taking over the world – the Earth is still reborn each Spring. I feel like birth – whether it’s a baby, a puppy, a bunny, a chick, a tree or a flower – is the Earth’s way of saying it’s still optimistic about the future. And that is certainly worth celebrating.
Saturday night at Easter Vigil, our Spanish language congregation partners, Sion Lutheran, baptized a group of children—and what miraculous outfits these children wore! Little girls arrayed in tiered, bridal-like layers of shimmering polyester, bedazzled tiaras, gloves, and lace-trimmed capelets; little boys in smart white, silver-trimmed militaristic suits and high-gloss shoes. These shimmery beacons fidgeted, twirled, giggled, got sleepy, and then were baptized with water and the Holy Spirit and welcomed into the Christian faith!
The story of Easter— the death and Resurrection of the man named Jesus in Roman-occupied ancient Jerusalem —is the most important story in my faith. It’s the central narrative on which our hopes are founded, the story that most clearly reveals God’s relationship to His Creation. Naturally, we each hear this story with individual ears, nuanced by our experiences, and because of my interests and profession, I likely notice references to fabric and clothing more than most.
The Baptism of Saint Vladimir in Chersonesus by Viktor Vasnetsov(1890). To the left attendants are holding Vladimir’s golden royal robes, which he has taken off, and the simple white baptismal robe, which he will put on (1890, fresco from St. Vladimir’s Cathedral, Kiev).
The fabrics of Holy Week are varied and suffused with meaning. Jesus ties a towel around His waist to wash the feet of his disciples before they partake in the Last Supper. Roman soldiers clothe Jesus in a purple robe to mock the idea that He is the king of the Jewish people. Soldiers cast lots to try and win the garment Jesus wore at His arrest, which is seen as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. When the lifeless form of Jesus is removed from the Cross, He’s wrapped in a burial shroud– these funereal wrappings being what Mary Magdalene and the disciples later find folded in the empty tomb. The angels proclaiming the Risen Christ wear garments of radiant light.
I am struck by the marked contrast between the types of garments described—robes of light next to a utilitarian foot-washing towel; royal purples aside linen burial wrappings; the majestic and ethereal with the humble and rough-spun. I found myself contemplating Baptism alongside burial customs, and how across time, culture, and tradition, we often swing between these contrasts. Some are baptized shrouded in a simple white robe, stripped of embellishment or individual expression. Or some, like these children, are baptized in finery, arrayed like lilies of the field. Similarly, we might be buried in our nicest clothes and jewelry, while in other times and places, the most basic shroud or wrapping is traditional.
I don’t compare to advocate for one approach— dressed up or humbly simple—rather they both seem so startlingly appropriate as an illustration of how I believe God views us—in our lives…and deaths. They are two sides of Christianity’s claim about mankind’s identity in God. On one hand, He sees us at our most basic— stripped of pretensions of identity, culture, and habit, flawed and sinful—rough-spun. Our essential being is more clearly known to Him than to ourselves, and thus we approach Him empty-handed and unadorned—what could we possibly offer to the one who gives us ourselves?
Easter’s claim, though— that God in Christ redeems Creation, bringing ALL things into right relationship with Himself—is that when He views rough-spun Creation, He actually sees His Beloved. Like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God takes a humanity that finds it so difficult to love one another, and in spite of anything we are, have done, or have failed to do, He clothes us in new robes, puts rings on our fingers. The Bible abounds with metaphors of new garments, garments washed clean, of God clothing His Beloved people in righteousness and holiness.
Easter asks us to believe that we are loved by God. That He sees us as intimately and essentially as the woven fibers of a simple white shroud. That He sees us as splendid, special, and worthy as the children of Sion clothed in gleaming new garments, heirs to a Kingdom of love. When we dress up for Baptism or burial, we may clothe ourselves in the signs and symbols of our humbleness or our belovedness, but either way, in life and in death, God covers us.
“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one.” -John Steinbeck, East of Eden.
The thing that I love most about the Christian holidays is that, in a way, they’re all the same.
In Advent, we await deliverance. O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. We wait hopefully and desperately. At Christmas, we celebrate our awaited deliverance – hopefully, and desperately. Then again at Lent, still we await that same deliverance. It comes on the cross at Easter weekend – we celebrate, again, hopefully, and desperately.
Mary conceives the divine Word of God and gives birth to the hope of mankind.
Christ conceives the divine Word of God and dies to bring hope to mankind.
Nichodemus asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?” Jesus answers, “Flesh gives birth to flesh but spirit gives birth to spirit.”
One story: the story of the soul’s painful and transformative exodus from old life to new. We ask, can I be redeemed? And the Bible gives us, over and over, this one story.
That’s why I celebrate Easter (and Christmas, for that matter) with Lady Gaga.
The thing that I love so much about Gaga is that her music videos and live performances always deconstruct the surface-level messages of her lyrics. You can listen to Born This Way and hear a long, 1980s-ish pop declaration that homosexuality and bisexuality are biologically natural – or you can watch the performances and see the One Story. In truth, I think, Gaga cares very little about biology. She cares about whether a human soul can be redeemed and how.
In the original Born This Way performances and music video, Gaga wears horns on her head. That’s how you know Born This Way isn’t about being “born that way.” You can see the powerful homages to the great Alvin Ailey’s modern ballet Revelations (Gaga’s choreographer trained with the Alvin Ailey school), you can see the images of baptism, and you can start to see how Born This Way is about being re-born this way. It asks, how can we be redeemed, to be wholly without hate and wholly united with God and one another in love? And it answers with pain and transformation and purification and death and spirit giving birth to spirit. One story.
You can listen to Judas and hear an irresistibly catchy pop confession of a Christian’s struggle with sin. But you can watch the music video and witness the shattering and scrambling of all the binary oppositions in the stories of Jesus: follower and leader, faithful and heretical, chaste and unchaste, sinner and saint, servant and master, human and divine. Judas doesn’t ask you what role you play in the story of Jesus – are you a follower or a betrayer, a Judas or a Peter – you are every role and every label. Instead, it asks, can you be redeemed to be wholly without sin and wholly united with God and humankind in love? And it answers with pain and transformation and purification and death and spirit giving birth to spirit. One story.
You can listen to Edge of Glory and hear one more addictive “YOLO, let’s dance and have sex before we die” song. Or you can watch the music video and see the glow of a refining fire barely contained behind a flimsy Hollywood set, and you can see the stylized makeup reminiscent of ancient religious icons. And you can begin to see the fragile boundaries between the physical and the spiritual, and how you yourself are the glass you must break so you can fall toward the glassblower’s breath.
Can you be redeemed?
Pain, transformation, purification, death, spirit giving birth to spirit.