I struggle with the celebration of Easter. I’m a child of late 20th century Southern evangelicalism, which feeds off the narrative of the Second Great Awakening—that movement that placed great emphasis on emotion. So I want to muster up some emotion as we approach Good Friday and the celebration of the resurrection. I want it to feel more special than it does. Shouldn’t the resurrection inspire us to heights of joy that no other day of the year does? Isn’t that appropriate?
A word-driven approach to Easter
I’m prone to let my feelings dictate my actions, but over the last few weeks I’ve been seeking a different approach to Easter. I’ve been reading the story of the first Passover in Exodus 12 as well as in the gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper. And I’ve been taking the themes that are common to both as a call to action, not just to muster up some emotion for Easter, but to work a change in my life.
One of the themes common to both Passover and the Lord’s Supper is God starting something new. For the Israelites, it is a brand new beginning. They even received a new calendar (Exod. 12:2), which is appropriate for a newly formed, independent people. Jesus also inaugurates something new: a new covenant. While the Passover initiates the Exodus that eventually leads the Israelites to Mt. Sinai and the Mosaic Covenant, Jesus fulfills this covenant and then offers his perfection to us in a new covenant sealed in his blood.
Yet perfection seems downright illusive for Christians. The writers of the New Testament are aware of that tension as they call us to continual repentance and renewal. So how do we strive toward perfection? Chiefly, we renew ourselves through time in God’s Word, not as an activity or item on the to-do list, but as a means of seeing and recognizing God’s glory and our own humanity. Recognizing the difference between the two and the extent of God’s mercy to reconcile that difference is overwhelming. I need to be reminded of that because I too often forget.
Assumptions can get in the way of this reality. Despite what is obvious on almost every page of God’s chronicle of Israel’s history, I often think of the Israelites as the “good guys” and the Egyptians as the “bad guys.” God struck the Egyptians (Exod. 12:29) and executed judgment on their gods (Exod. 12:12). So, they were the “bad guys” because the Israelites were spared, right?
The Egyptians, Israelites and me
Why were the Israelites spared? Was it because God was not going to judge them? No, it was because God chose to be gracious to them and give them a way to avoid the judgment. The Israelites would have undergone the same judgment as the Egyptians had they not applied the blood to their doors. And afterward, God made this plain to them as he claimed all firstborn as his (Exod. 13:1–2). No one in Egypt was the “good guy.” Both Israelite and Egyptian were stubborn and hard hearted. Both deserved punishment.
I, too, deserve punishment. But since I’m not considered a “bad guy”—at least in the evangelical circles I spend time in—it can be easy to forget that I daily need God’s transforming grace. The gods of my life need to be judged. My stubbornness needs to be rooted out and dealt with. I need my mind renewed and washed clean by God’s Word. I need to recognize that I have received an offer of grace.
This renewing of my mind by spending time in God’s Word sets me on the firm ground of wonder at God’s glory and mercy. This renewing of my mind in God’s Word reveals to me that I am an “Egyptian.” But I get to walk out of slavery with the people of God into hope. This allows me to look forward to the Celebration of the Resurrection, not with any more or less “emotion,” but with a greater gratitude and hunger for the one who saved me and a greater longing for others to know how they, too, can avoid God’s judgment.
I may not be any more emotional on Easter morning, but I do see God and his heart for my neighbors more clearly. Because of this, I can celebrate Christ more deeply.