A mentor of mine used to say, “Religion is when how it looks is more important than what it is.” When he defined it this way, he wasn’t saying that religion was a good thing. In fact he was articulating the way in which religion can get in the way of our fullest, most life-giving spirituality. He was saying that sometimes the rituals we create around our spirituality (how it looks) can obstruct the spirituality itself (what it really is).
We have now begun Holy Week; the days leading up to Good Friday and Easter; when we remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. These are holy days, indeed. So for many of us they are full of memories of celebrations gone by. They are full of tradition and treasure. These days flood our minds with pictures of family and friends. They stir our heart with anticipation of the joy we will feel as we connect once again with the anchoring story of our faith, the Resurrection story.
And yet Holy Week 2020 will look very different than Easters past. There will be no gathering with the multitude to see what special outfits parents have found for their children. There will likely not be all-day gatherings with extended family to eat ham and to hunt for eggs. And so the question comes: What’s left of Easter?
And here we have to consider which is more important: how it looks or what it is?
The question is more difficult than it seems. Many of us have never had to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus without music led by a live band and an inspirational message delivered by a theologian standing several feet in front of us. We haven’t had to create a sense of excitement without an egg hunt attended by dozens of excited children.
But what is it that’s happening underneath all of the festivity? What’s getting unlocked inside of us as we celebrate alongside those dozens of children? What are we receiving from God as we sing those songs and hear that message? And how are we being invited to receive and respond similarly in this season, even as we mourn the loss of the rituals.
While it may look different this year, the Truth of Easter still reigns today. The back side of suffering still takes us beyond the Cross and into Resurrection.
Typically we’d already know how Easter is going to look. We’d just trust that “what it is” underneath would come through the rituals we’ve rehearsed. We’d spend this Holy Week preparing for gatherings and allowing our hearts to run away in anticipation of what we know is coming ahead.
This year, it’s going to look different than we’ve ever seen before. There is sure to be grieving of the traditions missed and the memories that we are unable to recreate. But if we allow that grieving to rob us of the joy of resurrection –if we fall for the temptation to say that because it looks different, it’s not really Easter — we will have allowed our Religion to obstruct the spirit of Easter. How it looks will have gotten in the way of what it really is.
This year I say you’re being given an invitation. You’re being invited to consider what Easter really is in your life. What does the Resurrection really mean for you and those who are closest to you?
And you get to decide how to celebrate. You get to form fresh rituals — maybe for only one time in your whole life — to mark the birth of our faith that comes at Easter. You get to form a new religion, a new set of rituals, for a new season that comes alongside the greatest Truth that forms our living. Cling to what it is and how it looks will follow in the most beautiful way possible.
Over the next few days, follow along on this blog as we’ll walk through a few different ways to wrap our minds around what it will mean to celebrate Easter in a season that few of us ever anticipated.