'Happy Easter!' You hear it everywhere, in malls, in streets, and in churches. But is the Christian celebration of Easter really a happy occasion?
Easter is profoundly misunderstood as "Happy" unless we understand the entire drama of resistance to suffering and death, and the shocking cost of that resistance, that Easter entails. Encountering the depths of the worst human life holds can then lead to the astonishment of Easter, the 'nevertheless' of triumph, the central liturgical moment of the Christian year.
Easter is "Happy" in the same way that Pharrell's "Happy," a song written for an animated film, has become a way to express resistance by people living under repressive regimes, or under threat, as in this version from Kiev.
One of those interviewed in this video says, "I am here for the sake of future generations, not for myself. I may be killed. I will fight as long as I can for a better tomorrow."
As Jesus was about to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me." (Mark 14:48)
In other words, Jesus knew he was risking arrest for his actions, risking even being killed. Jesus had spent day after day during Passover arguing with the scribes and chief priests, calling them out for their arrogance, and ultimately taking action against the economic injustices of the Temple by overturning the tables of the moneychangers.
It's not surprising Jesus was arrested. In fact, it seems Jesus was saying, 'What took you so long?'
Then the Roman military power whipped Jesus, and then crucified him, one of the cruelest forms of execution. Crucifixion combines torture and death and produces the spectacle of pain that warned others not to resist, a specific form of oppressive power at which the Romans so excelled.
Easter is "Happy" because it is celebration of the resistance in spite of risk, and ultimate triumph of Jesus of Nazareth against the militaristic, power obsessed Roman Empire. By the way he lived and taught, Jesus vividly showed the difference between the "Kingdom of God" and the "KIngdom of Caesar."
The Christian celebration of Easter is trans-tragic, because if we miss what Jesus was struggling against, we can never experience what makes Easter "Happy."
There is so much suffering in today's world, from South Korea and Syria and the Ukraine, to hospital rooms and homes and in the streets where the homeless struggle daily. How can we say "Happy Easter" in the face of so much suffering, seen and unseen?
We can only say "Happy Easter" if we know and we live Easter as resistance and strive to confront unjust suffering wherever it is happening.
Happy Easter to you.