Between ages 0-32, I celebrated Easter the fun way: with bunnies, baskets, and expensive clothes. What better way to say “Jesus reigns” than dressing my preschooler in a $45 dress to show her off in the church lobby? (You’re welcome, Jesus. Be blessed.)
Now, let’s be clear, if you had asked me what my Easter priorities were as I stood all fancy in the lobby, I’d become grave and mention the resurrection. For crying out loud, I’m a Christian. But truthfully, between the outfit shopping, the Easter baskets, the egg ______ (dying, stuffing, hiding, hunting), the pictures, the lunch menu, and the gift buying, Jesus was flat last. I started thinking about him as the band started at church, and I thought about him for a whole hour.
That’s just true.
But for the last three years, Jesus has messed with me. Frankly, he’s hijacked all my holiday endeavors. I’ve always celebrated holidays with a Cultural Major and a Spiritual Minor. Take Christmas, for example. I endlessly spent on garbage no one needed and worked myself into a December frenzy and oh well. La de da. Now I’m overwhelmed by the poor and the disgusting consumerism cycle and the heinous neglect of Jesus and the appalling nature of it all.
Then we got to Easter, or as God called it, Passover. “Easter” is a little name picked up from the Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess of spring, ‘Eostre’, who saved a frozen bird from the harsh winter by turning it into a magical rabbit who could lay eggs. Hence: ‘Easter’, bunnies, and eggs. Why are elements of a pagan religion associated with the highest holy day of the Christian faith? (Oh bother. Can’t we just carry on and dye our Eostre eggs in peace?)
Assessing the typical American Easter, on one side I see Jesus on the cross, humiliated and mutilated, bearing the failures of every person past and present, rescuing humanity through an astonishing miracle of divine redemption, splitting history in two and transforming the human experience for eternity. On the other side, I see us celebrating this monumental heroism with chocolate bunnies and boiled eggs, with Jesus as an afterthought. It doesn’t make sense. (Insert some of you tossing this book in the garbage. Don’t mess with my Easter fun, you hippie chick.)
Austin New Church decided to rethink “The Traditional Easter Service That Brings In More People Than Any Other Day Of The Year.” It is our church’s two-year anniversary, and certainly we could stand more foot traffic, but I’m not sure Passover is best celebrated by a high-attendance Sunday of people who won’t be back until Christmas Eve.
We literally asked ourselves: What would Jesus do? Would he drop a bunch of cash on fancy clothes? Buy out the chocolate and plastic egg supply? Find the biggest church in town and spend twenty minutes posturing in the lobby?
Who in Austin might want to celebrate the astonishing hope of resurrected Jesus, but might feel uncomfortable surrounded by beautiful people dressed to the nines? Who needs the gospel spoken into their brokenness, but might not be welcomed by the saints in the sanctuaries? It came quickly to us:
If Jesus came to proclaim freedom for the captives and good news to the poor, then Passover uniquely belongs to the bottom dwellers. So we cancelled service and took church downtown to the corner of 7th and Neches, where our homeless community is concentrated. We grilled 1300 burgers and ate together. Our band led worship, then in a powerful moment of solidarity, we shared communion. It was a beautiful mess of dancing, tears, singing, and sharing. It wasn’t an “us” and “them” moment; it was just the church, remembering the Passover Lamb and celebrating our liberation together.
Now, if we get one repetitive request when serving our homeless friends, it’s this: “Do you have a bag?” (Could also be: Can I have that bag? Can I take that trash bag? Do you have a bag I can put this bag in?) So this was the perfect moment to give away seven of my nine purses, which were nice and roomy, just like the ladies want.
When the gals had a perfect view for maximum impact, I hollered:
“Hey girls! Anyone want one of…these?”
Cranberry red leather.
Green with gold buckles.
Chocolate brown bohemian bag.
Turquoise with short handles.
Burnt orange across-the-shoulder.
Shiny black backpack bag.
And one little purse I debated on bringing. It was a tiny thing, hot pink crocodile by Gianni Bini, functionally useless but fashionably magnificent. Our street girls want the biggest bags possible, since they carry everything they own. A wheelbarrow would be a huge hit. So my little vanity purse was a wildcard, but at the last second with a conspiratorial nudge from the Spirit, I threw it in.
Not surprisingly, it was the last purse left. What self-respecting homeless woman picks a hot pink purse that would barely carry her bus pass? Glamour handbags are only for women who have eight others and a house in which to stash them. So I stood there with my one little purse, when it’s rightful owner, the one for whom I daresay that purse was stitched together, made a beeline for me.
She had on her Easter finest, tights included, though it was ninety degrees. Flouncy dress with – what else? – hot pink flowers. Hair done in sections with matching beads, pink floppy hat on standby. Leather dress shoes polished to a sheen. Dainty ribbon necklace and rings on four fingers.
She was six-years-old. Her name was NeNe.
Never has a purse better matched its owner. She slipped that hot pink number over her arm and never put it down, not even to eat. Her mom looked at me and no words were necessary; mothers speak a silent language. I took her picture and fussed over her beauty and breathed a thank you to Jesus for the nudge.
I serve a Savior who finds a way to get pink purses to homeless six-year-old girls.
Jesus is a redeemer, a restorer in every way. His day on the cross looked like a colossal failure, but it was his finest moment. He launched a kingdom where the least will be the greatest and the last will be first, where the poor will be comforted and the meek will inherit the earth. Jesus brought together the homeless with the privileged and said, “You’re all poor, and you’re all beautiful.” The cross leveled the playing field, and no earthly distinction is valid anymore. There is a new “us” – people rescued by the Passover Lamb, adopted into the family and transformed into saints. It is the most epic miracle in history.
That is why we celebrate. May we never become so enamored by the substitutions of this world that we forget.
Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.
Having loved his own who were in the world,
he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
How do you celebrate Resurrection Sunday? Have you been participating in Lent? What has God shown you? I’d love to hear your Easter story.
(This post is excerpted from “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess“)