Valley Voices

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the mystery of Easter

An ocean of fog clings to the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains as seen looking west from Highway 180 above Dunlap in January.
An ocean of fog clings to the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains as seen looking west from Highway 180 above Dunlap in January. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

For Christians, we are at the end of Lent, the 40 days that prepares us for Easter. Traditionally Lent was set aside for reflection and sacrifice.

Very serious!

However, if you research Lent, you’ll learn that it’s derived from the Latin word for spring: lencten. Sure, Lent is serious, but springtime reminds me more of flowers blooming, bees buzzing, birds singing, and rabbits . . .

Hold your horses and rabbits! In the spring of the year, aren’t rabbits and other fine creatures busy-busy- busy making more fine creatures? And while we’re on the subject of rabbits, why is a bunny front and center around Easter?

Well, I’ll leave it up to responsible parents to tell their kids about springtime fecundity. Yeah, you can research that word, too! But, hint-hint, rabbits have a well-deserved reputation for fecundity during lencten! Yes, the Easter Bunny is a reminder of, er, abundance!

And what about the first word of the phrase, Easter bunny? Why “Easter?”

Isn’t Easter the grandest celebration of the Christian year? Our contemporary culture has certainly wrapped its greedy and gift-giving arms around Santa’s shoulders and made Christmas more appealing, but Easter is the cornerstone in the church’s foundation. So why do we call this day “Easter?”

We use Christmas because it’s Christ’s Mass, or the worship of Christ. However, Easter comes from “Eostre.”

Huh?

Yes, good old Eostre! She was a long-ago Anglo-Saxon spring goddess! Great, huh? The Christian church’s most venerable holiday has a Saxon fantasy floozy in its family tree. How do these things happen?

Gosh, folks, what should we name this swell new holiday? How about Resurrection Day or Holy Sunday or The Day of Glory or . . .

No, not those! Let’s name it after our favorite pagan goddess!

And I don’t want to research on how we determine when Easter arrives on the calendar. I usually look it up every year to remind myself of why the day moves between March and April with more sneakiness than a fox finding the best entrance into the hen house. All I usually remember is that a full moon has a big role in the Easter dating game.

As with Eostre, the moon has more to do with ancient pagan worship than Christian or Jewish reverence. So, with a parade of fecund bunnies, full moons, and Anglo-Saxon floozies, here we are at Easter.

What does this most sacred of days mean to you?

Cynically, for some, it likely means a semi-annual trek to a place of worship to miraculously confirm that the red Christmas poinsettias can become white Easter lilies. Such an amazing transformation!

For some, like my family when I was a kid, Easter became the Negotiable Sunday. Since we regularly attended church, my parents would sometimes consider not going to Easter worship. As Mom explained with raised eyebrows, “We’ll save room for those other people.”

For me, Easter has many meanings and expressions. I obviously enjoy playing word games and Easter’s literary history is fascinating. From a scholarly perspective, Easter represents an intriguing time to compare and contrast Gospel stories. The early Christian community clearly struggled with the human Jesus of history and the spiritual Christ of faith.

As a film buff, I think Jesus and Easter have often brought out the odd in Hollywood. There was the blue-eyed (and Anglo-Saxon looking) Willem Dafoe playing Jesus in the “Last Temptation of Christ” and Mel Gibson’s brutal, bloody, grim “The Passion of Christ.”

While loving Christmas, I get exhausted by the hype and consumerism. Joseph and Mary have become marketing tools. Shepherds and magi arrive to make sales pitches. Sigh.

Easter, thank God, is a hard sell! A bunny with melting chocolates can’t compete with Santa’s big bag of endless gifts!

I believe Jesus was resurrected. But can I really explain Easter’s essential message to my or your full satisfaction? Can I “sell it” to you? I doubt it.

I liken the wondrous mystery of Easter to when I’ve stood at a mountain pass in the Sierra, sweat-drenched and wind-swept. For miles, I mostly gazed at the ground as I slowly, slowly trudged upward.

Then, at Glen or Franklin or Bishop Passes, I’d suddenly look up and see ridge after ridge after ridge of the High Sierra seeming to extend forever. You can see the glory, and yet you cannot even begin to encompass the fullness.

Easter is a dare to believe in life in spite of death’s grip on us, in spite of our worship of the dollar over the divine. It stuns me with its view to a way and world that is beyond my control and comprehension. I can make it to the pass, but then I see more. And that “more” is absolutely astonishing. How can God be so creative, so breath-taking with a gift of love that will never end?

Easter may have a name with a peculiar past, but the “day of resurrection” continues to inspire my present, here-and- now faith. I can’t sell it to you, but I will celebrate it.

Larry Patten of Fresno is a writer and minister and currently works at Hinds Hospice. He maintains www.larrypatten.com. Write to him at larry@larrypatten.com

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