Today is a special day. In fact, it's my mom's favorite day of the year. I've celebrated 28 Easters in my life, many of them in the traditional southern way: with horrifying pinafores and crinoline and ruffled socks and floppy hats. I think this picture is actually from Christmas, not Easter, but it gives a good example of the finery with which we honored our risen Lord:
Just look at that 'stache. Glorious. But let's not forget about the poor suffering babe in her scratchy, poky, painful get up. (Yeah that's me.) I'm convinced part of the point of it all was to remind us of the effect Jesus' own crown of thorns had. I have a love/hate relationship with the Easter "dressup". Part of it I love, because well, you can't escape your raisin'. Part of it I hate, because well, it hurts.
Every time spring rolls around again it guides my thoughts back to the new life that Easter brings. Everything is fresh and green and new again. And sometimes in all the ruffles and matching shoes and joyous activities, spring's predecessor can be easily lost. It's easy for me to forget the recent winter as I feel the sun on my face and watch the birds play in our newly budding tree. Winter is a season of death. It's a season of waiting. The world looks lifeless, like all hope is lost. I've spent many winters trying to just hold on til spring, waiting out the cold and trying to block it all out. The problem with that is that I skip over a very necessary part: the death before the life. The death itself that leads to life.
You see, you can't celebrate Easter without the whole story. You can't have the glory of the resurrection without the brutality and loss of the death. Jesus said, "unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives." There is no TRUE life that hasn't first experienced death, and come out on the other side. There are many necessary deaths I've tried to fight, deny, and wriggle out of over the years. Motherhood, marriage, ministry, and many other things over the years have acted as a mirror, showing me parts of myself that needed to be let go. Sometimes I fight it with all my might, but every single time, once I surrender and die to myself, I find a life I never would have without the dying.
Death is scary on the front end. It's a loss, it's an unknown, and it's a suffering. But when we step into the baptism of Jesus, of dying with him so that we can be raised to life in him, we step into the only true life in the world. The mystery is that the dying actually produces life. The letting go actually gives us everything we need.
"If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it."
I find myself clinging too often to things that only bring me death: false identities, self-protection and defense methods, parts of my life that I think will save me or make me happy. It looks like death to let go of these things, but the truth is that it's actually the only way to life.
Though the "Steel Magnolias" picture of my childhood Easters is a correct one, it's not a totally complete one. You see, amidst the ruffles and ribbon, there was a remembrance of the truthiest truth in all of life. That there is a death that leads to life. That there is a love so complete and unselfish it rescues us. That there is a God who died the most excruciating death to break the curse of our violence and hate, and overcame death so that we could all be free. That Jesus is love, all the way to the cross, and that his love is victorious, all the way to the empty grave.
I have been fortunate enough to spend my 28 Easters surrounded by people of the cross, those who have chosen to walk in Jesus' footsteps and have hope because of it. I am blessed beyond measure by the countless people in my life who have modeled the meaning of Easter, and so I celebrate the life today that springs forth from death. As you hunt for eggs and suffer in your starchy shirts and scratchy skirts (if that's your thing), may you also find the courage to put to death the things that are holding you back from true life, and walk out in victorious resurrection.