Is the meaning of Easter being lost?
Some scholars fear the story of resurrection has gone far astray
By KATE SHELLNUTT
April 3, 2010, 6:22AM
Just as Christmas for many has become less about the miracle of the virgin birth, Easter may be losing its connection to the resurrection.
Fewer than half of Americans mentioned Jesus’ death and resurrection when asked about the significance of Easter, according to a survey released last month by Christian researchers the Barna Group.
At the same time, the National Retail Federation reports we’ll spend more than $13 billion on the holiday for food, clothes, candy and greeting cards.
Although the holiday is meant to be the central celebration of the church, disassociating Easter from the biblical narrative of the resurrection or seeing it in symbolic terms makes Christianity “safer” for con-temporary churchgoers, some local Christian leaders say.
“Jesus is very challenging. To encounter him is existentially challenging. It can be scary and uncomfortable,” said Jeremy Wilkins, assistant professor of systematic theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston. “There is a strong pressure in our culture to reinterpret (the resurrection) or explain it or not to deal with it as the mighty and miraculous thing that it was.”
The resurrection’s Easter competition comes not only from colorful bunnies and candies, but also the historical accounts of the story that appear in books, newspapers and cable TV programs each spring.
This month, the History Channel aired The Real Face of Jesus, a documentary about the Shroud of Turin, thought to be Christ’s burial shroud.
“The skeptical mind is always going to try to find a physical, a psychological, an other-than-spiritual reason for the truth of the resurrection,” said Gary Moore, spokesman for Second Baptist Church.
Even within Christianity, there’s a spectrum of belief on who Jesus was and what the resurrection means.
Among young American evangelicals, a growing contrarian viewpoint holds that Jesus isn’t the only path to salvation and non-Christians can go to heaven. Brian D. McLaren presents a reconsideration of the Gospel in his recently released book A New Kind of Christianity.
Unitarian Universalists and more liberal congregations emphasize the inspirational side of the Easter story, as a story of new life and the power to rise above hate and injustice.
“Let’s don’t try to water this down. Let’s not try to make it just an idea,” said Moore in response. “Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t stand for something else, like a metaphor. Jesus’ resurrection only represents his body, not his philosophy.” [emphasis mine]
The most common concept comes from Apostles Creed, shared with little variation among Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans and others.
According to the statement of faith, Jesus “was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again; He ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
Jesus’ resurrection was the first testimony of Christian faith; early Christians circulated stories about seeing him after his death, which were recorded in the New Testament, said April DeConick, a Rice University religion professor and historian.
“As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, the resurrection of Jesus served as a concrete example that God is good on his promises, and so the faithful followers of Jesus could be assured of their own resurrection after their deaths,” she said.
The Episcopal bishop for Texas also acknowledges some confusion over resurrection in today’s world, but says that doesn’t keep parishioners from experiencing the power of God and his promise of salvation in their lives.
“While many may not be able to articulate fully the theology of resurrection, I think most Christians would say that they experience a sense of it in Christian community,” said the Right Rev. C. Andrew Doyle. “They experience resurrection through relationships with others, through the community a congregation offers and from service and outreach to other people. Christians testify that they experience, receive, and act out of the mystery of resurrection — this feeling of constant renewal.”