How to Celebrate Easter As the World Lay Dying

7 Apr

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We celebrated Easter on Sunday, but what happens if, instead of new life, you see death all around you during this season? I wrote this last Easter in Argentina. Enjoy! 

How to Celebrate Easter As the World Lay Dying

“Spring is Christ,” Rumi wrote. I always loved that, because it made me think of Easter, and by the time Easter rolls around where I grew up in Southern California, spring is in full swing. The world around me starts to fill up with wild springtime smells; flowers bloom overnight, birds sing, hope soars. It’s easy to feel like God knew what he was doing when he rose from the dead in the spring–to reveal to the world his great secret: out of death, comes life. After winter, comes the spring.

But what about the world below the equator? My first Easter in the fall was several years ago, in Adelaide, Australia. My friends and I went to Glenelg Beach and sunned ourselves, looking out at the turquoise water, at the wooden pier, at the pine trees hemming it all in. I remember we ate ice cream, and I listened to an Erwin McManus podcast as my “church” for the day. There was nothing particularly autumnal about it.

But today I celebrate Easter in Bariloche, Argentina, a mountain town in the Lake District where the colors and feelings of autumn are unmistakable. Reds and oranges and browns cover the hillsides, wood smoke lingers in the air, and we tuck into hearty, comforting foods like red meat and potatoes. It’s hard to imagine our church community right now, in the Northern Hemisphere, singing their hearts out in the sunshine at the Hollywood Bowl, dressed in pastels and florals, shaded by wide-brimmed hats, later eating brunches featuring quiche and asparagus and lemon squares.

Every Easter I hope for a mystical experience, and by that I don’t mean anything weird, I simply mean that joy and peace and hope the world can’t possibly give nor take away if it wanted to. I’ve experienced this before: five years ago I was in Northern Ireland for Easter, visiting my friend Jamie, and practically exploding with joy. I’d just finished a stint in Norway doing missions work, and was completely in awe of God and his character and his kingdom. I was full of hope for whatever step I took next, and I felt like the woman in Proverbs 31, who looks at the future and laughs. At Jamie’s church on Easter Sunday they passed out party poppers and we sang and sprayed streamers all over the room. Later that week we drove up to Giant’s Causeway on the very northern coast, through endless rolling green hills where creamy baby lambs frolicked. Spring is Christ, indeed.

And then there was the spring three years ago when my now husband Robert and I first started dating. That Easter I borrowed my roommate’s pale yellow scarf to wear with my white dress, and I matched the pale yellow polo shirt he wore to church. We had brunch at my parents’ house and the whole day was effervescent with the new love blooming between us. A new life–a life together, as a couple–was sprouting, showing its first green shoots; it was springtime.

This morning as I lay in bed in our cabin on an Argentine lagoon, surrounded by trees changing to orange and red, I realized it was Easter, and in my mind the words echoed: “He is risen. He is risen, indeed!” and my pulse quickened, just a little. A feeling of possibility rose in me. But as I move through the day, I’m not exploding with joy and hope. I feel grounded, or like I’ve fallen to the ground like a dry autumn leaf. This Lenten season has been a doozy, especially at work, and things happened there that made me lose confidence in myself and my hope for the future. I’d rather fold up into myself and hibernate for the winter than look for sprouts of new possibilities around me. Also, I’m stuck with myself, and the pitifully slow growth rate of my character, all the ways I give in to death and dying in my own heart: bitterness, comparison, catastrophizing, self-pity. Outside of my own downtrodden experience, the world is downtrodden as well—all you have to do is turn on the news to feel autumn, then winter, edging in on your soul.

But here’s one of the astonishing benefits of a lifelong faith: I know that, even in autumn–of the earth and of my soul–Christ is still risen, and he is still Spring. Perhaps those Christians living in the Southern Hemisphere know better than us in the North how to celebrate Easter. Perhaps they know that even when the world is on the fast track toward death, when all signs point to decay, these old bones can live again. “He has risen, just as he promised,” the angel told those faithful women at the tomb. We will rise, just as he promised, and spring will come to the whole world at last.

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