“Holiday or holy day”

By Thomas Hersman

Americans love holidays. A quick internet search turns up about 200 different holidays (counting regional ones), from which we can choose. They commemorate causes we don’t care about and people we don’t know or like, but that doesn’t get in the way of another chance to eat, drink, and be merry.

Despite my own love of a good holiday, I wonder if an objective observer, judging solely from how we spend these holidays, might conclude that they all add up to one giant celebration of leisure and amusement. Sure, we have different decorations, and our activities vary by season, but for a moment let’s ignore the turkey with a buckle on his hat holding the “Give Thanks” sign in the window. Ignore the fifteen foot tall inflatable “Seasons Greetings” decoration in our lawn. Aren’t we spending every holiday just about the same way? We gorge ourselves with food we can’t normally eat, and we join with friends and family to do all the things that we wish we could be doing while we are stuck doing the things that must be done. Is it possible that all of our holidays have morphed into one?

Christians, we need to take another look at our holidays. We should expect something more of ourselves. The root of the holiday is the holy day. While festivals of revelry and amusement have always been around, Christian holidays are supposed to be about something more. This Sunday, Christians present to the world a celebration of the most important event in Christianity, and indeed for all of mankind, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Easter, (or Resurrection Sunday, if one wants to differentiate from the secular event that gives retailers an excuse to move 250 times the normal demand of sugar encrusted marshmallow chickens) is arguably the oldest, and most important holiday in Christianity. While Scripture doesn’t institute the celebration of Easter as we know it, the importance of the Resurrection as the keystone of all Christian beliefs is unrivaled. The Apostle Paul hinges the entire hope of Christians upon it. It’s a big deal. Early church history seems to confirm this because in addition to giving us one of the most well-known statements of basic Christian belief, the Council of Nicaea also found the time to pin down the date of Easter. Judging from the record available, Easter was probably established as a Christian celebration well before Christmas.

It doesn’t take a doctorate in sociology to see that Easter has changed in secular culture. We’ve displaced the Risen Lord with the Easter Bunny (who was, oddly enough, a Santa Clause-like figure from German Lutheran tradition), truckloads of candy, and traditions that are by themselves completely empty. Some would point to a conspiratorial “paganization” of Christianity through theories about the origins of the name “Easter,” and critiques of the holiday’s dates and traditions. Others blame secularists who want Christianity as a living breathing movement to wither and die.

We are, however, looking outward when we should be looking inward. There is nothing wrong with the non-religious traditions of Easter that we enjoy. They are not diminishing the day. We are. Good, church-going folk have grown lazy in the way that we commemorate this very important event. Americans love holidays, but we hate holy days. We want leisure without reflection and self-evaluation, but we must make a distinction between our leisure and genuine commemoration. This is true for any holiday. It doesn’t take much effort to throw some burgers on the grill for Memorial Day, but it takes significant commitment to place flags on the graves of fallen soldiers, to minister to their families, or to consider what should be done to make the most of their sacrifice.

The burden of preserving Easter belongs to Christians. In Joshua 4, God commanded the Children of Israel to pile up twelve stones at the place where He had brought them across the Jordan River. This was done so that in the future, when children asked about the massive pile of rocks in the river, their parents would relate to them the story of how God dried up the Jordan and led them across. That should be the function of our holidays, especially Resurrection Sunday – to serve as periodic reminders of what God has done for us, and how His faithfulness drives us to better emulate and serve Christ.

We won’t accomplish this by taking all the fun out of Easter. Please understand me. I am not advocating that you rip the Easter basket out of your child’s hand while shouting “Pagan!” at the top of your lungs. However, as with any change worth making, it is not something that will happen by accident. We need to be purposeful about creating the opportunity for ourselves and our families to consider what Scripture tells us about the importance of the Resurrection, to ponder its personal significance, and to refocus our efforts upon living lives which reflect its power.

Meeting with fellow believers to celebrate the Resurrection is a good start, but not enough by itself. Many a churchgoer sits through years of Easter sermons only to leave unmoved. However, the heart that glimpses the power of the Resurrection will be moved. There is no formula that fits everyone (at least that I am aware of), but my challenge to all believers this Resurrection Sunday, is to find your pile of twelve stones. Find a way to reconnect your mind and heart to the power of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection from the dead. Make sure that you don’t pass up another opportunity to be overwhelmed by the glory of the Risen Lord.