An Easter message of hope for our culture
November 24, 2008 · Updated 6:52 PM
One price of living in a secular culture is the assumption that it carries the way an ocean breeze will sometimes carry the scent of dead fish: penetrating every beachside house that existence is ultimately meaningless.
To fend off despair, we may wilfully assign a transcendent value to our jobs, relationships or political causes. However, a thoughtful secularist cannot entirely forget that in the end all these values are made up. It is quite difficult to be happy if we stare into the mirror each morning and see only the random product of meaningless forces, stellar dust that happens to be self-aware.
Religious faith provides an antidote for that depressed fellow looking back at you from the mirror, not only by explaining that the Universe does in fact mean something but also by providing a forum for expressing a meaning in our life.
Somebody said that life is a hospital in which every patient is possessed by the desire of changing his bed. One would prefer to suffer near the fireplace, and another is certain he would get well if he were by the window. Parts of it call to mind the Monty Python skit where a chirpy television host explains, among other things, how to play the flute: Well you just blow in one end, move your fingers up and down the side, and beautiful music comes out the other end.
The story of the suffering and death of Jesus on Good Friday is the story of the triumph of falsity over truth, of injustice over justice, of evil over goodness. It is a story of betrayal and lies, dishonesty and meanness, unfaithfulness and wicked violence directed against an innocent and apparently helpless victim. If that were the end of the story, that would be a bad story, a tragedy.
It is good news to know that truth is immortal. This is about Love's intrusion into life to transform it from tragedy into victory even for those who have not been faithful. Love's intrusion is not just a moment long ago, when a rock was rolled away from the door of a tomb. It is about God's intrusion into the lives of all. Easter is about God's power to roll the stone away from those things which have us entombed, and breathe God's life-giving Spirit into each of us, so that we might have life now, as well as in the future. Even when we are going through very difficult times: through betrayal, unjust discrimination, lies, and misrepresentations; even when the enemy seems to be winning the battle in our lives.
This is certainly understandable, that in the midst of our shock and bewilderment, we become so consumed with the details and the decisions that need to be made that we miss the message of eternity. In the midst of bunnies and eggs, it is easy to forget the real meaning of Easter. We create elaborate little worlds of control and we do not want to leave them. We create these tombs for ourselves.
Our destiny does not ultimately rest in the success of our institutions, or the preservation of our traditions, or the survival of our communities, but in our ability to see hope even from the artificial tombs in which we often put ourselves. How else can we describe our twisted self-serving sense of justice, and our distorted campaigns for national, racial, political, religious, or personal sovereignty?
Feelings are all bottled up inside causing us to feel rejected, misunderstood, but the real Easter hope assures us that no matter what chapter in our lives is being written right now, God isn't finished with our story. Hope enables believers to accept the incompleteness in our lives, without desperation. A final chapter has yet to be written in our lives, and it will be scripted by God's Love.
Hope helps us accommodate ourselves to imperfect reality...changing things we can change, accepting things we cannot change, and discovering that the things we cannot change are things with which we can live. Hope helps us cope with our personal reality; it helps us let go of yesterday's worries, tomorrow's fears, and today's anxieties, so we won't overload and blow our circuits. It empowers us to refuse to buy into modern cynicism, because we know God is present in our world...although He might seem temporarily eclipsed by evil. It means we expect God's best to come out of the worst thing that can happen to us when we least expect it.
Obviously, hope does not guarantee a solution for every problem. Hope encourages us to expect to be surprised by God and His joy at some time in the future. Someone has written: ``Hope is an inner power to believe that life can get better...not perfect, just better than it is...good enough to make it worth the struggle to keep our commitment to someone. An oyster cannot change the fact that a wee flick, an irritation particle has slipped inside its shell. So it accommodates. It finds a way to cope with what it cannot change. And by coping, the oyster creates an opalescent pearl.''
Rev. Dr. Samuel Sawitski, Professor of Art and Spirituality of Lehigh University and Moravian Theological Seminary, is the pastor of the Congregation Church of Mercer Island and can be reached by e-mail at SamS@ucc-ccmi.org.