As I was scanning the local newspaper a couple of days ago, I stopped at an almost full-sized ad from one of the local supermarket chains. The colors of the ad, bold spring colors on a page that was otherwise black and newsprint white, caught my attention. Then I noticed the headline: “Easter Starts Here!”
In my only slightly caffeinated state at the time, I just stared at it. Something seemed not quite right. And, then it started to sink in. Really? Easter starts at the grocery store? And, below the headline: pictures of ham, turkey, tulips and asparagus. Is this really where Easter starts?
Do they not know what Easter is? It’s quite possible that the writer of the ad doesn’t know much of anything about Easter, if the writer of the ad is a typical resident of Maine, where only a small percentage of the population is made up of people who identify themselves as Christian.
Like every other business, who can really blame them for trying to cash in on the latest holiday? But, I can’t help but think that that particular headline went too far. I don’t begrudge them trying to lure people into their stores with pictures of ham and spring vegetables, but the notion that one of the major holidays of Christianity—the holy day that makes Christianity what it is—can be so casually absorbed into business marketing, as if Easter is the equivalent of the 4th of July. It all seems wrong, and offensive.
Yesterday, during Old South’s Good Friday observance, we listened to difficult scripture, the stories of the end of the earthly life of Jesus, the pain and the agony of death on a cross, and finally the words, “It is finished.” We sang familiar Holy Week hymns like “Were You There?” and “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded. So many of the words heartbreaking and haunting, yet, still in those words, the promise of hope: “What language can I borrow, to thank thee dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end? O make me thine forever, and should I fainting be. O let me never, never, outlive my love to thee.” (third verse of “O Sacred Head”)
Tomorrow, on Easter Sunday, we’ll gather as God’s beloved community and contemplate the wonder of resurrection, and consider new insights into our journey of faith—how Christ is present with us still and how we are called, as individuals and as a church, to follow in Christ’s way. The story we will hear, the songs that we will sing, the silence that we will observe, the opening of the heart and mind to new awareness of an ancient story: that is where Easter starts. Yet again.
In the Dr. Suess meditation on Christianity’s other most holy of days, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the story reaches its climax when an entirely unexpected (and completely contrary to his motives) experience befalls the Grinch. With his sleigh full of Whoville’s Christmas gifts and decorations, up high on the top of Mt. Crumpet, the Grinch pauses so that he can listen in for the wailing of Whoville’s residents as they discover the gifts and decorations missing, and therefore that Christmas is not coming. Instead of crying and carrying on, though, the Grinch discovers that the residents are still celebrating Christmas, gathering together, holding hands and singing.
A bold thought enters the Grinch’s mind, “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
It’s the same for Easter. It won’t be found in any store, not even the grocery store with its bold claim that it is where Easter starts. It won’t be found in the midst of the tulips or the asparagus or even the ham.
Easter won’t be found there. It’s found in the story of God’s people, next to an empty tomb, and an awareness that something amazing and unfathomable has happened.
And continues to happen.