Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Holy Week and Easter Are Countercultural

This article was supposed to be published in the April 2015 issue of The Messenger, the newsletter for St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Bellingham, WA. It was inadvertently left out, so I am publishing it here.


In the 1970s and ’80s, I was raised in two Christianities at once: the Christian-ish, civil religion of our dominant culture, and the Christianity of my local congregation. At a young age, most of what I considered the most attractive features of religion came from the dominant culture: Christmas trees, the Easter bunny, Santa Claus, and the idea that Christianity basically meant being nice to people.

Meanwhile, in my local congregation I learned the more central features of Christianity: the stories of Jesus and about Jesus, the thrilling Old Testament adventure stories, the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, loving our enemies, death and resurrection. My faith was fed week in and week out by story and communal prayer and liturgy. I didn’t notice any difference between these two Christianities until I was an adult, and that realization was slow in coming.

Since then, Christianity in our context has changed. Fewer people have been baptized into the Church, and fewer still have grown up as members of a congregation. Unfortunately, a record number have experienced religion as a hostile force, or at least as a feature of society one can choose to ignore. On the other hand, Christian-ish, civic religion permeates our nation’s politics and self-image, and many of the societal structures we take for granted were originally built on it.

But Holy Week and Easter are countercultural. They are not generally understood by civil religion, despite long predating it. (If they were understood, we wouldn’t see secular organizations scheduling Easter egg hunts on Holy Saturday!) They are ancient, deep rituals steeped in power: power to expand our understanding of ourselves as human beings who seek clarity and meaning in a mysterious universe full of danger and joy.

I’d like to invite you to attend church with us on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil. On Thursday, April 2 at 7:00 p.m., bring an offering of nonperishable food. Come have your feet washed, and wash the feet of others. Watch as the altar is stripped. On Friday, pray in the darkness and touch the Cross. On Saturday, come to the bonfire and light a candle. Hear the stories of our faith. Be sprinkled with water and smell the anointing oil. Ring bells and sing loudly with the first “Alleluias.” Bring friends. Bring children in pajamas, with pillows and blankets, and camp out. Bring anyone and everyone who could use some Good News.

Then, experience Easter as a season lasting for fifty days. As we tell the kids in Godly Play: Easter “is so great that it keeps on going. You can’t keep it in one Sunday. It overflows and goes on for six more Sundays. It makes a whole season!” We are Christians. This is our story. Help us tell the story!

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