What's Tony Thinking

“Happy Easter” or not


Last Sunday — Easter Sunday — a friend at church asked me what the proper greeting is for Easter. “Do you say ‘Happy Easter?'” His expression indicated that he wasn’t sure that sounded quite right, or at least that it didn’t feel quite right to him.

“Well, you can say, ‘Christ is Risen,'” I suggested. Or if you want to go Greek try, Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen!), to which the response is, Alithos Anesti (He is Risen Indeed!)

He’s right to be a bit puzzled about this. But it’s not really a matter for Ms. Manners to advise or adjudicate. The issue is theological.

In some sense, sure “Happy Easter.” In the northern hemisphere, it’s spring, stuff if greening and blooming. Winter is over. Family gatherings. Easter egg hunts. “Happy Easter” by all means.

But in another sense “Happy Easter” sounds, and is, a terrible domestication of an event that is disruptive and disturbing.

Note that in the New Testament accounts no one at the empty tomb was tossing blossoms, singing tra-la-la, or discovering brightly colored eggs in the shrubbery.

Not by a long shot. The words that are most often used to describe the feelings and experiences of those at the empty tomb are “fear,” “terror,” “disbelief” and “astonishment.”

To say, “Happy Easter, care for a glass of Chardonnay?” would be decidedly out of place.

Even in some of the better Easter sermons I scanned on the internet, there’s only good cheer — “Love wins,” “The End is Life,” “Good Prevails.” True enough, but missing the disruptive, disturbing element of those first Easter accounts.

If Easter is only “Love Wins” or “Everything Turns Out Great In the End,” the bite is gone. No reason there for fear or terror.

So, what’s up with all that, with the fear, the terror, confusion and astonishment that virtually all the gospels relate?

Is there a way in which we adjust ourselves to death, to disappointment, defeat and decline? A way in which we make our peace with a world under the sway of death? A way in which, “Nothing ever changes” can be comforting?

Here’s the English Catholic theologian James Allison,

“The stone put aside and the absence of the corpse were not in the first instance a motive for rejoicing, but for terror. Terror because what had happened was quite outside anything that could be expected. Terror because now there was no security, no rules, nothing normal could be trusted in. And worse, terror because everything difficult and frightening which Jesus had taught them had begun to come about: he went before them, just as he had told them.”

Instead of “Happy Easter,” maybe the word should be, “Oh shit, he’s back.”

Well, yes, I get that this would not do at the Easter brunch at Mom’s. But in church, in proclamation and preaching, in the community of faith, we need the disruptive. We need the challenge to the ways we have made peace with the powers of death. We need the openness of the empty tomb and all the wild uncertainty it conjures.



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