The truth won’t stay buried
It seems like forever since we celebrated Christmas. OK, it’s just been a little more than three months, but you get the idea.
But in the Christian calendar, it’s been a lifetime. Each year, that calendar compresses the earthly life of Jesus Christ into this three-to-four month period (depending on when Easter falls), climaxing with Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Efforts to “reclaim” Christmas as a religious observance surface around Thanksgiving each year, urging us to celebrate Christmas as a “holy day” instead of a “holiday.” Good luck with that. That ship has sailed, and I don’t see it returning to port.
While it’s a noble thought, I have to wonder how successful such efforts will ever be. It’s been my experience that demands like “Keep Christ in Christmas” are seldom well-received by those determined to do otherwise. I recall that Jesus invited people to follow him, but didn’t demand it. As followers, we would do well to afford others the same courtesy.
The fact is, Christmas in American society has become two separate events, one sacred and another secular. It seems unlikely that the commercialized observance will ever go away. Some folks celebrate one and not the other, and many participate in both to varying degrees.
By contrast, Easter has not developed into the huge commercialized operation that its bookend holiday — make that, holy day — has. That’s not to say opportunistic entrepreneurs haven’t tried. We certainly have distractions from the Christian observance of Easter just as Christmas has. For example, it’s the Easter Bunny instead of Santa Claus, and it’s Easter eggs instead of jingle bells.
Perhaps it’s the commercial engagement of the Christmas observance that might lead outsiders to believe that the celebration of the birth of Jesus is the singular major event on the Christian calendar. Without doubt, we would not have Easter if we had not had Christmas, and the events surrounding the birth in Bethlehem are indeed considered no less miraculous by believers.
However, it is Easter that makes the Christian faith unique among the world’s major religions.
Most of the symbols our society now associates with Easter at one time had some religious significance, but those interpretations have been largely forgotten while the symbols remained. Some researchers suggest that the symbols were used in an attempt to explain the Easter story in a simple manner to children who weren’t old enough to comprehend the death-and-life importance of the day.
The Bible makes no mention of a long-eared creature delivering colored eggs, but rabbits are known for being prolific procreators, and thus they are a symbol of abundant life. Meanwhile, it has long been the practice of some Christians to “give up” something they enjoy during the 40 days leading up to Easter, the period known as Lent that starts with Ash Wednesday. It’s done in recognition of the sacrifice made by Jesus, and it often involves avoiding some type of food. If those foods include candy, eggs or chocolate, you can understand why youngsters would appreciate finding such things in the front yard on Easter Sunday morning. As the tradition evolved through the generations, children would leave empty baskets as “nests” where those treats could be placed. Even the Easter parades that are still held in some major cities are a holdover from the processions that early churches held on Easter.
The purists, like those who decry the commercialization of Christmas, will no doubt see such traditions as distractions from the true meaning of the holy day, and with good reason. Just as it’s likely that presents placed under a tree will displace images of the baby Jesus lying in a manger, it’s likely that candy eggs in a basket will divert Christians’ attention away from the empty tomb.
Hopefully, though, the distractions that exist at this time of year are not so great that the more meaningful message of Easter will not be obscured. My wish is that you will clearly see that message this weekend.
I will close with what has become one of my favorite quotations on this Sunday’s celebration, from author Clarence W. Hall.
“Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.”
Gene Deason is a former editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears in the Bulletin on Fridays.