Simple Paradox on Easter

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We got up and gathered around the laptop for Easter. A couple of us dressed up, a couple of us didn’t comb our hair. We attended our church’s online service with cats quarreling, dogs wrestling, and siblings…living in perfect harmony. Obviously.

Since we have functioned as one household with Kim’s sister and her three daughters, we had a full living room. Coffee. Spilled cereal. Spilled cereal again, leading to a change of clothes.

You know, normal Sunday church.

Afterward, we sang a hymn together, “Christ the Lord has Risen Today,” that we recorded so we could send the video to my mom.

Now we’ve moved to coloring eggs, doing “bubble socks,” and spraying sparkle in one another’s hair. Soon we’ll have an egg hunt–tweeners, teens, maybe a twenty-year-old searching–and then go to Kim’s other sister’s house, the one who has a new baby and a four-year-old, where we’ll sit on their porch while they stay in their living room and have dessert “together”… with a pane of glass between us.

I didn’t preach. That used to be a normal thing for me on Easter, but not this year. Maybe next year.

I’m guessing that those of you who do church on Easter did it differently than you have before. People always joke about how “normal” is just a setting on the dryer and there is no “normal” life, but there are customs and habits, accustomed traditions and even liturgy…and most of us are either adapting and adjusting or else shrugging our shoulders and letting it go this year. “Wait ’til next year.” We all sound like Cubs fans, pre-2016.

Dear Ones, this is a bizarre year. Very few of us have experienced anything like this before. It’s a chance to feel empathy for people who live their lives immunocompromised. An ultimate player friend who is also a cancer survivor shared about how she felt going through the world in a mask, how uncomfortable and awkward it was for her, how people reacted to her so much differently. Since many of us are wearing them now, we don’t have as much a feeling of being the odd and outcast one. But this is an opportunity to recognize that these inconveniences and difficulties we’re suffering now–including not being able to work–have been some people’s experience all along.

In a life suddenly constrained, we have so many choices. Many of them are internal choices. Whether you are climbing the walls or embracing uninterrupted introversion (finally!), this is a chance to breathe deeply and consider others. In fact, to think about how this affects others and not only ourselves is one of our biggest choices.

“Mike, this is nice talk but how is this Easter talk? Where’s the stone rolled away and the empty tomb? Where is Resurrection?”

The center of Easter is Jesus’ choosing to think of us instead of himself.

As a mentor of mine always stressed, we can’t get to Resurrection without going through crucifixion. We can’t skip Friday and go straight to Sunday. We know Resurrection because Jesus accepted suffering that didn’t have to be his. Jesus thought of us instead of only himself.

I think everything I’ve learned about following Jesus turns out to be a dynamic tension, a paradox I’m learning to embrace and live into rather than needing to solve. Take Grace, for example.

Grace means that though I deserve none of it, God cares about us, individually. You matter to God. I matter to God. Following Jesus means that my life isn’t just about me–or even primarily about me. God loves me special because I’m a precious child of the most high; Jesus teaches me to love other people at the same level that I love myself, to love my enemies and to give of myself. The core of the Gospel teaches that I know love when I am loving, that I experience grace when I show grace, and that selfishness is suicide. Do you see how counter-intuitive that is? Seeking to do everything for self destroys self. What does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our souls? Nothing.

Right now, most of us have fewer opportunities to serve others than we normally can. If we’re practicing shelter in place, we have fewer options.* But I think it’s more important right now than almost ever that we refuse to let our world become about us (or else to repent of having already made our world only about us). I mean we do that for the sake of others and for our own sake.

The power of Jesus’ resurrection is that we are set free from the selfishness that would destroy us and set free to love others–which, I’ve experienced, is the only way I can learn to love myself. Love others as you love yourself, but also, until you love others, you can’t really love yourself. Yet until you love yourself, you won’t be able to love others.

“But which is it, Mike? Which one comes first?”

It’s a paradox. I’m following Jesus, and Jesus is teaching me to love myself, and Jesus is calling me to love you so that I can love myself. They’re inseparable. If I try to do only one or the other, I damage myself.

We have choices, right now. Turn inward or look outward. Feel sorry for ourselves or grow through newfound empathy. Become fearful and self-protective or extend ourselves for others in their isolation. Hoard or share. The non-profits and ministries and missions and churches that exist through people’s generosity are in danger of dying, right now, and therefore all the people suffering poverty of losing the love-in-action those organizations provide. It’s maybe more important now than ever to be generous. When we fear that we don’t have enough for ourselves, we’re tempted to grasp more tightly. But Jesus calls us to something different: “Seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Happy Easter. It’s different, yes, but the Gospel is the same. We have choices to follow Jesus. They might look different this year, but they’re the same paradox they’ve always been: give to receive, empty to be filled, love God and others to love ourselves.

*Yet staying home is serving others.

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