When I was a little boy on Easter morning, I would do what all little boys do with reckless abandon: run full-throttle downstairs to find my Easter basket, bedded with green plastic Easter grass, and filled to overflowing with candy- Hershey kisses, Cadbury eggs, chocolates with cream, chocolates with peanut butter. It’s one of those childhood sensations I can still touch, taste, see, and smell in my mind’s eye. It’s also one of the times my usually sweets-averse mother relaxed her stringent standards. Candy before breakfast! Where did this sugary, chocolaty, overindulgent decadence come from? Why, the Easter Bunny, of course!
Now, our family owned three actual, standard-issue non-Easter rabbits, and I distinctly remember one Easter morning sizing up my Easter basket next to one of the rabbits, and realizing, even at my young age, that the geometry and physics of the whole rabbit-basket equation was a stretch to say the least. I think I even asked my parents how the bunny opened the doors to our home. I was happy for the candy, but suddenly suspicious of the backstory. And thus, in that sad moment of lost childhood innocence and wonder, cynicism was born.
As adults, if we’re truly honest, many of us feel that same cynicism in a different way as we come to Easter and its traditions, especially church. For some of you, the last time you were in church was LAST Easter. Or maybe longer. Or, you go more regularly, but just go through the motions, because the Easter message of HOPE doesn’t seem to stand up to a closer examination, just like my Easter basket and the bunny. We look at a world that doesn’t seem very hopeful, in fact it seems dark, headed the wrong direction, often confusing, and sometimes downright frightening. We look at our lives, and we see circumstances that cause even the strongest of us to draw in our breath- illness, broken relationships, death, despair, hardship, suffering, big questions.
And sometimes, we look at Christians around us- and they seem to be angry, defensive, running scared, more concerned with their own self-protection, moral authority, and invulnerability than with the things we thought Jesus was all about. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience with one, or a bad church experience, and it’s soured that message of hope that you thought Easter was about. If you’re honest, maybe you have doubts that the outlandish story of Jesus’ resurrection that Easter celebrates could be true because you'd see a much different picture in your world if it were. And even if it is, it’s hard to trace how it impacts and changes your life and your struggles when your eyes open to face them every morning. You have every right to be cynical because of all this and so much more.
One of the interesting things we forget about Jesus’ closest followers- his disciples- is that they didn’t believe in him either, even after hanging around him for three years and hearing him make repeated, clearly-recorded, outlandish claims about being the son of God, the savior of the world, and that he would die and then be raised to life. You’d think that the people who followed him around for so long would have more faith, but they clearly didn’t.
When Jesus was arrested, it was because one of his closest followers betrayed him. Another, who vowed to lay down his life for Jesus wilted and ran at the fireside inquires of a middle-school-aged girl. By the time he was crucified and buried, all of his inner circle had fled. On that first Easter morning, when the women came to Jesus’ tomb and discovered that the stone had been rolled back, they weren’t there because they expected a resurrection, it was because they knew some men had hastily buried Jesus on Friday, and suspected, women knowing what they do about men and these sorts of things, that they hadn’t done it right. We learn in the Bible that even after reports and sightings of Jesus began spreading around, at least one of his closest followers still didn’t believe it.
All these people heard everything Jesus said about being the son of God and rising from the dead, but none of them actually believed it when the jarring events of real life: an arrest, crucifixion, death, and burial- came to pass. For them, the idea of hope was crushed by the circumstances of no hope. Like you, they had every right to be cynical.
But fast forward into the future: Many of these same people became the strongest voices declaring that Jesus had in fact risen and was the Savior- the son of God. Most of them ultimately paid for this claim with their lives, and the rest were persecuted, living with suffering, alienation, rejection, and difficulty. But they were filled with HOPE right to the very end because their cynicism was melted away by encountering Jesus the person. These stories, just like Jesus’ claims about himself, are comprehensive and well-documented. If they had not encountered a risen Jesus, this would have been pointless and insane.
If this unlikely story revolutionized the direction and purpose of their lives, making them these bright, blazing beacons of hope in the midst of great suffering, difficulty, and great personal cost, then perhaps we should give Jesus another chance. Perhaps, in the midst of struggles, questions, doubts, and even cynicism this Easter, you need an encounter with Jesus the person. Perhaps you need to choose hope.
Choosing hope. One thing I’ve learned as I’ve grown older and crossed paths with people who have endured great difficulty and struggle is that hope isn’t something that happens to you. It’s a choice. It’s always a choice. And hope isn’t a just reward at the end of your personal journey. It’s a direction you choose to set your life on each day.
If you think you might like to give Easter another chance, we’d love for you to consider joining us at Newbridge Church this Sunday at 10 AM. We’re a gathering of people with many stories of struggle and challenge, which would give us every right to be cynical. But we’ve chosen to go toward hope, and it’s changing us a little bit more every day. We’d love for you to join us!