Monday, February 11, 2019

From Christmas to Easter

Historically, Christmas has captured the Christian imagination, and even the popular imagination, in a way that Easter never caught on. Although there's some nice Easter music, Easter hasn't inspired composers and hymnodists nearly as much as Christmas. Why is that?

i) Probably a variety of reasons. Nostalgia. We associate Christmas with childhood. It takes us back to childhood. If we had a happy childhood, Christmas benefits from those wistful associations. Moreover, Christmas may be a part of what made it a happy childhood. Of even if you had an unhappy childhood, Christmas might have been a bright exception.

Likewise, the idea of God born into the world as a baby can clearly resonant with children. In time of high infant mortality, when children watched their siblings buried, Easter might be resonant, too–if they understood the theology. 

ii) The subliminal power of elemental symbolism may be another reason. A Christmas Eve service is typically held after dark. Traditionally, the sanctuary is ablaze with candlelight. That conveys the emblematic message of light appearing in darkness. 

Which corresponds to the original event. Jesus was born at night (Lk 2:8), heralded by a luminous angel (Lk 2:9). Likewise, although the visit of the Magi is conflated with the birth of Jesus in Christian iconography and folklore, that also apparently happened at night, when the Star of Bethlehem was visible (Mt 2:9-11). 

So we associate Christmas with the symbolism of light appearing in darkness. By contrast, dawn is the natural symbol of the Resurrection, which is why many churches have a sunrise service on Easter. 

And that, too, corresponds to the original event. Jesus rose from the dead in the wee hours of the morning. The empty tomb was discovered around dawn. 

The relevance is that if you attend an Easter service, no matter how edifying the music or preaching, once you leave church it's hard to maintain an Easter mindset. A fallen world is more like Christmas Eve than Easter. More like flickering candlelight at night than the eternal dawn.

In this life we don't experience what Easter represents. So it's more abstract. The closest we come to tasting the Easter message is a funeral service rather than an Easter service. The hope of future reunion in the flesh with our dearly departed. The hope of Christmas lies on this side of the grave while the hope of Easter lies on the other side of the grave. Christmas signals the journey's commencement, and Easter the destination. 

In a sense, the position of Christians in relation to Easter is analogous to the position of OT Jews in relation to Christmas. Yes, the first Easter lies in the past, but what Easter points to–the resurrection of the just–lies ahead. 

It takes more effort to maintain an Easter outlook. That's something you have to work at. I think Christmas comes more naturally. It begins where we begin while Easter ends where we will end. 

No comments:

Post a Comment