When I was young, Easter was all about hats. It would have been sacrilegious to go to mass on that day without one. Not just to cover the head, out of respect, out of reverence, but to tilt our fashion lances at our neighbor and to see who was still standing at the end.
A literal Easter joust. Down the center aisle, and then up the stairs to lay out the parsleyed hard-boiled eggs and ham. Whose dish is most prettily decorated?
Men strutted their stuff in their collars and cuffs. As though the amount of starch ironed into them revealed the amount of grace in their souls.
Easter was also all about flowers. Mostly lilies, I’ll admit. But there were always contributing floral support to the lilies. Small, red begonias in color-foiled pots spread across the front of the choir. More exotic blooms at the base of the pulpit.
The priest is going to give us one of his good ones today.
And those hymns. Those triumphant screams that belong more to a crowd welcoming home an army fresh from victory at war than to a group of people gathered to mourn and glorify a beaten-down, filthy, homeless person, condemned to death because he angered the priests of his temple.
Really angered the priests of his temple.
Who died in ignominy.
Odd, how we have made our Easter celebration into something that looks and sounds like it honors the church that condemned Jesus to death and the soldiers who carried out that condemnation.
Think of how gaily we decorate our great stone altars, how beautifully we drape them.
The altar of Jesus was a cross. A plain, wooden tree, on which he may have defecated right before he took his last breath.
See in your mind’s eye how we bless our priests and pastors with rich fabrics, beautifully embroidered with symbols and expressions of our religion.
The priests who fulfilled God’s promise, who slaughtered his lamb-son, were the soldiers who nailed Jesus’s hands to the cross.
And yet every Easter we yell, Alleluia!
Well, you say, Easter is not about the death of Jesus. That’s Good Friday.
(Most of us don’t even bother to show up on that day. What’s the point?)
Easter is about his resurrection. His triumph.
And how did Jesus express this triumph?
In complete silence.
In complete secrecy.
In complete mystery.
He slipped through our world like a mist.
In the ultimate miracle of the son, the qualities of the father were perfectly expressed.
And where is our focus on Easter? On our perfectly designed outfits. Our perfectly designed floral displays. Our perfectly designed liturgy.
But here’s the thing:
As Christians, we do not worship the religion that commits the rite of the Eucharist.
We do not worship the priesthood that executes this rite.
Instead, we worship the actual sacrificial victim – the lamb itself.
That scrubby, mewling, hobbled sacrificial victim.
Except ours is not the typical victim: while ours was raised from birth to die in its predestined ritual, ours was not treated with special care during its life. Ours was not treated with kindness before its neck was sliced open and its blood poured out.
No. Our victim was shamed.
Our victim was humiliated in public.
Our victim was degraded.
You couldn’t find a speck of deification in the last walk of Jesus if you were the blind man whose sight Jesus miraculously healed.
And, ironically, because of the treatment showered down on him by the powers that be, including the priests of his day, Jesus died in a state of complete ritual impurity.
Not the usual purification process for a sacrificial lamb.
And how do we honor that? How do we even acknowledge that his innate purity was revoked by the acts he was forced to commit so that he could die?
But how much do we mean it?
How much do we want to claim this sweat-smeared, spit-covered savior on his way to becoming an abomination?
Clearly, we don’t want to own him at all.
We want the baby born amidst animals to have a nice, warm blanket tightly wrapped around him and a refreshed mother and father sitting patiently at his side, not desperately out looking for food, or fearing the spear of a baby-seeking soldier.
We want the man who had to carry his own cross through teams of cursing, fist-shaking thugs to clean up nicely for the cross scene, his hair – freshly shampooed – gently caressing his closely shaven face.
No agony here, please.
And when he doesn’t come out of his tomb with a spotlight trained on him and a brass band announcing his re-arrival on Earth, well, we just do it up right for him. It was a different time then. We know better now how to celebrate his resurrection.
We’ll all stand together and shout, Alleluia!
And appreciate how well folded our neighbor’s pocket hankie is.
And how nicely it matches his tie.