Taking Issue with Easter Lilies
David R. Weiss, April 2, 2010
Okay, this is a lot bigger than the white blooms on the tall stems, but I’ll begin here. Every year my church starts soliciting orders a couple weeks in advance for the Easter Lilies that will decorate our sanctuary on Easter Sunday. In fact, I think every church I’ve ever attended has done this.
Here’s the problem as I see it: they’re not historically accurate. The first followers of Jesus did not plan ahead and order their lilies in the weeks before Holy Week.
I’m only half-serious about this point, but the half of me that’s serious about it, is REALLY serious about it, so bear with me. Obviously, these first followers of Jesus couldn’t order their lilies in advance because they didn’t know Easter was coming.
In the weeks leading up to that first Holy Week (which, of course, no one called “Holy Week” back then—it was just another Jewish Passover celebrated under Roman occupation) his followers could barely foresee the calamitous events of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion let alone his resurrection.
But for that very reason I think it’s worth asking, do we lose anything by taking Easter so for granted (“Of course it’s coming again this year”) that we order our lilies weeks before we even remember his death? I think we do.
From Palm Sunday through our services on Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday we recount the events in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. We do this because we believe that what happened back then has significance for us even now.
I couldn’t agree more. But I think we have drastically misunderstood what that significance is.
See, I already know that in three more days I will gather with others on a Sunday morning and our service, from first to last, will be framed by this Call and Response: “Christ is Risen”; “He is risen indeed!”
Fine. I mean, FINE! Great, I’m happy for him. Good job. Way to go God.
But listen, I’m not being irreverent here. I’m saying that the significance of Easter morning today is far more about what happens to my life than to Jesus’ life. Resurrection, if it matters at all today, matters most of all if it happens to me.
So in a very real sense, the significance of these events from 2000 years ago lies precisely in the precariousness of whether they are recapitulated in our lives today. And that is far from certain. And whatever things might help that happen, placing an early order for a potted Easter Lily is almost surely not among those things.
I understand, of course, that there are a host of thorny questions about Jesus’ resurrection.
Metaphysical questions like, did his body really die? Did it start to decompose? Was it a fully physical body that came back to life? If so, how did he walk through doors? When he ascended to heaven, did his lungs still breathe air? Etc. They’re tricky questions, and I’ll confess they don’t much interest me any more. Sorry.
Theological questions like, did his death secure my salvation? And does “salvation” mean “life after death”? And if it did secure it, how did that work? And what part did resurrection play in that? Now those questions matter more to me, because I think we’ve answered them in some dreadfully wrong ways in our history, but even that is not my point here.
Resurrection is also an ethical challenge. And we hardly ever talk about that. If we want to affirm Jesus’ resurrection, then regardless of what we mean metaphysically (yawn …) or theologically (%$#@!), we at least mean that on that first Easter Sunday God dramatically affirmed the ethical pattern of Jesus’ life. AND EVER AFTER COMMENDS THAT SAME PATTERN TO US. (Sorry, I wanted to make sure you heard me.)
I’m not against celebrating Easter Sunday with Easter Lilies and being happy for what happened to Jesus. I just think that’s the least of what Easter is about. And by putting all of our focus there (which is what we usually do!) we miss the ethical challenge that Easter poses to us.
Picture God (or Jesus, if you prefer) standing among the lilies at the front of your sanctuary on Easter morning and declaring definitively, “From now on, I want the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the sick cared for (and every last one of them, damn it!). I want you to see Me in the face of every person, especially the poor, and even your enemies. I want you to cross boundaries and welcome the outcasts home. I want you to challenge and break down even the systems and structures that keep my children (and all of my creation) from flourishing.
“Oh, and by the way, I don’t want you to worry anymore about the death thing. I’ve got that covered. Now get busy”
That’s what Easter is about. And given the numbers of hungry, naked, sick, poor, enemies, and endangered ecosystems today, I’m not sure that Easter Lilies really do justice to Easter.
I’d like to suggest, in a little bit of guerilla liturgy, that when the pastor or assisting minister calls out, “Christ is Risen,” you respond, “WE are risen indeed!” (And then look like it!)
And if thinking about the challenge those words pose to your own living makes you a little uncomfortable, I’d say you’ve taken a good first step toward appreciating the unnerving mystery (and world-challenging joy!) of Easter.
Christ is risen indeed. Are you?
David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace, David lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and is a self-employed speaker and writer on the intersection of sexuality & spirituality. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more at https://tothetune.wordpress.com.
David, thank you so much for this thoughtful statement that at least partially represents a swirl of misgivings I’ve harbored for years now.
Without seeming ungrateful I’d like to call your guerilla liturgy and raise it by suggesting the following re-altered response: “I am risen indeed!”.
Seems to me the slippery “we” so often used in corporate liturgy really translates in most minds as “everybody but me” as when confessing “we” are in bondage to sin. Using the first person puts a whole new face (mine!) on the statement and places response-ability where it belongs.
By the way – trying this out in real time in an actual church service may garner you some heated glances. I suggest sotto voice if you’re not surrounded by understanding friends and relatives.
Deb, thanks for “raising” my suggestion. I agree entirely, it is the first person voice that not only claims that words but also the respose-ability in deed.
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