Easter has in common with Christmas in that there are a lot of secular stuff attached to it that is in no way related to the real reason for the holiday. In other words, the Easter Bunny and egg hunts have as much to do with Christ's resurrection like Santa Claus and reindeer do with Christ's birth.
And yet, when these holidays roll around, what's plastered on the ads for Easter and Christmas? Those secular images. I suppose that it's easier to use those secular symbols for their sales than using actual Christian symbols. As well, I'm not sure that I'd want the folks who come up with those ads (sometimes referred to as "Madison Avenue") to put their creativity into using the true Christmas and Easter images in their ads. Most likely, they'd come up with something that would come off as disrespectful at the least and outright blasphemous at the worst.
So it's probably for the best that those ads stick to secular symbols. We will have to rely on our churches instead to tell us "the reasons for the seasons" - which is how it should be anyway. So... what IS Easter about anyway? I'll touch a little bit on it with this blog entry - at least from a Catholic perspective.
Easter actually is the end of the season of Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday. During the period of Lent, Catholics are to reflect on their lives and how they live it, and it is customary to give up something as a way for us to better our lives, which is sometimes referred to as a sacrifice. For Americans, that generally means giving up something like chocolate or other sweets - which reflects a lack of understanding of the term "sacrifice". Giving up chocolate is not a sacrifice. It might feel like it to a group of people who are accustomed to living in overabundance, but in truth, it's not a sacrifice.
A sacrifice would be something like giving up smoking or alcohol, or giving up watching television. Hopefully with such a sacrifice, the Lenten observer would be inspired to give up smoking entirely, or he (or she) will develop the strength to curtail drinking or viewing habits. Anyway, this customary sacrifice is supposed to provide for us a taste of what it was like for Christ to spend the 40 days in the desert.
A priest that used to be at my parish had a term for our human weaknesses: "sin-affected humanity" - that is, sin taints our efforts to lead good and wholesome lives. Before I continue, something needs to be explained about the term "sin". In our society, sin is often viewed as synonymous with "breaking rules". But sinning isn't necessarily about "rule breaking"; rather it's about falling short of the good that we are capable of doing. For example, we could lead productive lives, which is a good, or we can lead lazy, slothful lives. Or, in the case of someone wronging us, we can either find the strength to forgive them, or we can plot our revenge against them.
Basically (and I'm really cutting a lot of corners here in order to keep this blog entry from running too long), sinning is about making wrong choices in our lives that lead us away from the potential for good that we could be living. Since we frequently make a lot of wrong choices, this accumulates in our psyches in such a way that, if we aren't making ourselves aware of when we're doing wrong, we can lose our ability to tell right from wrong. This is why Catholicism concentrates so much on sin and developing habits that help us to strengthen our souls against such temptations. Catholicism is also aware that we are indeed human, which is why Catholicism has confession.
Okay, with that, let's move on. Catholicism teaches that, with our sin-affected humanity, we aren't capable of reaching heaven, for nothing tainted with sin can enter heaven. We also can't earn our way there. No, the only way the path to heaven can be cleared is for someone without sin to offer himself up for our sake by taking our sins upon himself. Catholicism teaches that this person is Jesus Christ. We (that is, Catholics) believe that Jesus was born without sin, and that by dying for our sins, he made it possible for us to enter heaven.
In fact, Jesus' whole life was a series of lessons of how we should live our own lives. The teachings, parables, and examples that he provided were meant to be teaching tools for us. His life was lived for us, so that we may learn how to live lives that are pleasing in the eyes of God. The closer we get to living Christ-like lives, the more we understand not only what is pleasing to God, but also why it is pleasing to God. Most of us think of Jesus as a hippie-ish, "let's all get along" huggy-feely type, but he actually was viewed as a rabble rouser by the authorities at that time. They were so concerned about him that they had him executed. Can you see a hippie-ish "let's all get along" huggy-feely type today being willing to die for someone else - especially in so public a way, and especially for a people who largely would not appreciate their sacrifice?
And yet, dying for us is precisely what Jesus did. Even after all these centuries, it's still something that prophets and scholars meditate upon. But there's only so many ways that you can examine Jesus' death on a cross; to truly understand how much love it took for him to be willing to die for us, we have to try to see the world through his eyes. And here's the rub: we can't start seeing the world through his eyes until we try to live like him, and to live like him is to live in a way that is inconsistent (to say the least) with the thinking of the world today. Our day and age is largely selfish and self-serving. Such a mindset is far, far from understanding Jesus' act of loving sacrifice.
It is the mindset of such people that can see giving up chocolate as a genuine sacrifice for Lent. Let's face it: We in America live in a world of overabundance, so much so that even those of us who try to live loving spiritual lives are often swayed by that overabundance. There's simply so much to easily distract us. We are the proverbial bird living in a gilded cage; that is, we are so blinded by the glitter that we can't see that we are trapped by our wants.
Our overabundance can and most likely does block the view of the road to heaven for many of us. Thus, the loving example of that Nazarene of long ago is still needed and relevant to today. For those of us living in overabundance today, we'd have to let go of all of that in order to better understand why Jesus did what he did. And it would take much more than giving up chocolate.
So this Easter, go ahead and take the kids to the egg hunts. Eat those Peeps - and yes, have the chocolate. But try to set aside some time for the "reason for the season". Meditate upon Christ's death and resurrection, and see if there's some way that you can put yourself on the path toward seeing the world through Christ's eyes. Then you'd be putting yourself on the path to seeing that you're living in a gilded cage, which is the step before getting out of that gilded cage. And once out, you'll have a better understanding of the kind of love it took for Christ to sacrifice himself on that cross. And then you will finally learn the real meaning of Easter.
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