My Facebook feed tells me that a lot of people I know and love spent a significant part of Easter day working to capture cute pictures of their children in various Easter-related poses. Looking back through old family photo albums, in fact, it seems I have also been guilty of dressing my progeny in uncomfortable outfits, snapping pictures of them crawling through the bushes looking for plastic Easter eggs, and making them pose pretending they liked each other.
While it all seems a little ridiculous, I know why we work so hard for happy Easter pictures, of course. Spring is starting to bloom all around us, our liturgy is pushing us to celebrate new life, and the closest tangible expression of new life is found in the faces and promise of our children. Even in their squirmy discomfort, their Easter pictures bring us hope; they make us think that newness is possible in a world that seems to be deteriorating all around us.
I worry a little bit, though, that the bunny costumes and plastic Easter eggs, shiny faces and posed sibling affection may distract us a bit from the reality of new life. We all know that welcoming new life, the call and mandate of Easter, is so much more painful and messy than our Easter pictures make it out to be.
For one thing, welcoming new life means that something old has to die. Sometimes it’s a habit or practice; sometimes it’s a relationship or a situation; sometimes we say goodbye even to people we love. There’s something in the rending of a current reality that creates the ground for new life to germinate, but there’s no avoiding the pain when that happens. I find that welcoming new life is such a fear-inducing prospect for just this reason: we have to get to a breaking point before new life can even begin.
Further, pretty hats and high white knee socks are cute, but they are fundamentally incompatible with the welcoming of new life. In fact, while my kids look cute as can be in those old Easter pictures, I distinctly remember their entrance into the world and it was the furthest thing from cute I can think of. It was hard, and pain-filled. It involved sweat and blood, tearing and pushing, sudden exposure to bright lights and cold air, tense silence broken by shrill cries. This is the Easter story of the Gospels, too. New life didn’t just appear in pastel hues and sweet surprises while everyone slept peacefully one night. It was born of altercations with the authorities, a fear-filled upper room, and a cross.
Likewise, learning to welcome new life as it begins to inform the old always involves sleepless nights, tears of frustration, painful self-doubt, and the unwavering conviction that this is the hardest thing you’ve ever done and you probably will never survive. As new life pushes its way into our tired realities we feel so conflicted: on the one hand, we know it needs to make its home in our hearts and lives. On the other hand, it’s so pushy! It unsettles every little corner of orderly control we’ve tried to create. New life unmoors us.
Surely this is how the disciples felt, even after the women ran to tell them Christ is risen, even after they saw him and touched his hands and side. Resurrection was only the beginning of figuring out what it means to welcome new life.
As the rabbit costumes are put away this year and we work our way through leftover Easter candy, let’s remember that the cute pictures of our families in their Sunday best are just a the start of resurrection. All the possibility in their eyes, the love their images evokes in us — these should be inspiration or encouragement to keep going in the Easter work of welcoming new life.
If we have the courage to move past posed pictures of scrubbed faces and flowers and fluffy chicks, we will soon find that the task of living into the promise of new life will be less like combed hair and buttoned up vests and more like the earth trembling as a stone rolls away, blinding white light, and falling to our knees in fear and joy. But it will also be last year’s Easter sandals pinching our feet because they’re too small, our lives filled with relationships we could never have imagined just a short time ago, and our own limited dreams for our lives and for the world stretched just a little bit more, moving ever closer to the new life God hopes for all of us. Sunday was beautiful, but it was just the beginning.
May it be so. Happy Easter!