April 24, 2011
The Importance of Easter
By now, there are few people who are not familiar with talk of the "War on Christmas." The hyperbolic nature of this nomenclature aside, it springs from the observation of two undeniable facts: first, there is a sustained, concerted effort to marginalize, if not eradicate, the religious significance of this most celebrated of Christian -- and American -- holidays; second, this assault on Christmas belongs to a larger campaign to undermine the influence of Christianity over our popular culture.
Nationally speaking, Easter isn't nearly as grand a holiday as Christmas. Christmas is a season that, from beginning to end, imbues everything it touches. As a priest from my church once put it, it is impossible to escape Christmas. Easter, though, devoid, as it is, of the endless supply of music, decorations, movies, and television shows characteristic of the Christmas season, has none of the latter's ubiquity. Indeed, a person could conceivably pass right through Easter Sunday without knowing it. Such simply cannot be said of Christmas.
In spite of all of this, Easter is no less safe than Christmas vis-à-vis the project to dislodge our culture from the Christian traditions that have always informed it.
Recently, my wife and I took our two year-old son to visit with the Easter Bunny -- or so we thought. When we arrived at the local mall, we discovered that it wasn't the Easter Bunny with whom parents could have their children's pictures taken; it was The Bunny who was the center of attraction. And from what I have been able to gather, in substituting The Bunny for the Easter Bunny, our mall is not indulging its idiosyncrasies.
There is more.
My wife is a kindergarten teacher at a public school here in New Jersey. As is the case in public schools throughout the nation, she and her colleagues are permitted to distribute goodies to their students on the occasion of Easter -- as long as they do not mention Easter. "Happy Springtime!" is now the acceptable salutation for this holiday.
That for the better part of the last two millennia Western civilization has been virtually indistinguishable from Christianity will be denied only by either those who are ignorant of their inheritance or those who resent it. The attempt to purge Easter of every last vestige of its religious character is a function of this larger enterprise to purge the West of all remaining traces of its Christian character.
In one sense, say, a symbolic sense, the popularity and the grandiosity of Christmas renders it a much larger obstacle than Easter to the achievement of the militant secularist's aims. Yet there is another sense, a psychological sense perhaps, in which Easter is more pivotal in this regard.
While Christians believe that Christmas commemorates the birth of God Himself, those who reject the doctrine of the Incarnation can still view Jesus' birth as something worth celebrating. All that is needed for this purpose is a belief, not in His divinity, but in his greatness. Thus, in either discussing Christmas with one's peers or teaching it to children, a reference to the birth of this wonderful man could for all practical intents suffice.
Such is not the case with Easter.
Easter is nothing less than Christ's resurrection from the dead. It is this event upon which Christianity hinges. To paraphrase Saint Paul, if Christ didn't rise from the dead, then there is no justification for our faith. Ultimately, Christmas and Easter are inseparable episodes in The Greatest Story Ever Told; we can't have one without the other. But considered abstractly, Easter is by far the most religiously significant. It is at that moment that the life and work of Christ reach their climax. It is on Easter Sunday that the tides of world history are forever turned. It is then that humanity receives its new lease on life, its liberation from both death and, thus, the fear of death.
This Easter we will serve ourselves and our world well by reminding ourselves and others of the reason for our celebration.