What is Easter?

A primer for doubters

A long time ago, I spent one Easter on a picnic table behind the local Roman Catholic church exploring the fundamental values of late evening hot sex on church grounds.

Image of Jesus laughing by Midjourney

I don’t think the fact that my son was born about nine months later was a coincidence. God often gets the last laugh.

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I spent many subsequent Easters giving God the finger in different ways. I wasn’t just a non-believer. I was an angry one. I would have just as soon spit on a crucifix as wear one. Why was I angry at God? I’m not sure it’s important. I just was.

I’m a lot older now, so hot sex on a picnic table behind the local church isn’t exactly on my bucket list. Neither is, unlike in my rebellious youth, the fantasy of taking a chainsaw to all the world’s church pews.

Age has introduced a lot of grief, sadness, loss, and not a small amount of self-inflicted wounds. It has changed my priorities.

The self-inflicted wounds, in turn, have introduced me to God, and the meaning of Easter, in unexpected ways.

Even though he was a bit of a prude, I most identify with the apostle Paul, who joyously saw to it that fellow Christians were sent to the gallows. He thoroughly enjoyed this line of work until one day, according to the biblical story, Jesus said, “Dude. Could you please just stop?”

Most atheists I know are among the most moral people I have encountered. Their atheism is often guided by the recognition of all the hypocrisy around them, which fuels a logical conclusion: “What kind of God would allow this?”

Most of them don’t need a God to steer them in the direction of decency. It just comes to them naturally. Others among us, like Paul, need all the guidance we can get. Even when we have a moral compass in good working order, sometimes the needle goes haywire and we need some help.

In many ways, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve always been respectful of women and I have always loathed racism, even when I was young and living among people who didn’t feel the same way. I’m glad I’ve never needed guidance in those realms aside from the usual echo chambers that help strengthen the metabolism of my sense of social justice.

Like many people, though, self-destructive behaviors have been a bit more challenging, and it has been during the worst of these moments that God has attempted to speak to me. Usually, he has failed, but sometimes I would sort of see his attempt and take a stab at some New Age spiritual thing.

I’d light a few candles, check out a chakra or two, get on with my life, and then yell at him when things went wrong again.

Then, one day, the light went on. But it wasn’t the kind of light that most Christians would identify with. I’ve been reading the Bible daily for years now, have read it through several times, but I’m no Bible thumper. If you’re a Christian, you probably won’t like my version of Christianity, especially if you’re a strict follower of canon.

The Bible’s stories about genocide and the occasional passage written (there are like, two of them, I think) by men about gay life (which Jesus never mentions) still make me cringe every time I read them.

But there’s a consistent thread of love and forgiveness that runs through both testaments. I’ve learned to dismiss the parts I don’t like as allegory or unfortunate injections of Sharia law and warfare, often written by men with agendas.

What I have also learned is that Easter represents, for me at least, a God who won’t take no for an answer.

Unlike humans, he’s not exactly proud. He just kept coming at me despite multiple rejections. I’d give him the finger, and he’d do a celestial shrug and check on me again a couple of years later. “Ready yet?” he’d ask.

Christ is a dirty word

What does the word Christ conjure for you? For many people, Christ is almost a dirty word. Roman Catholic and Baptist priests prey on children and many fundamentalists promote a version of heaven and hell on earth based on judgmental creeds that malevolently assault Christ’s actual teachings.

Modern church services are often supremely boring affairs. Conservative fundamentalists demand a form of political circumcision claiming that divine words should govern the outcomes of various squabbles like abortion, homosexuality, and, strangely, firearms.

These forces combine to turn off vast swaths of people. The counterargument to that, of course, is that we can’t adapt Christianity to suit the moods and desires of wayward humans, but that argument makes no sense in the light of Christ’s teachings that focus repeatedly on just two things: love and forgiveness, which have absolutely nothing in common with some of the psychological terror induced by fundamentalists.

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

Therefore, Christ doesn’t ever become a consideration among many people, most of whom eventually give up on their vast catalog of New Age modalities, too, never finding any actual satisfaction. Many give up because their earthly pursuits fail, and they blame their favored New Age program. Others give up because their earthly pursuits succeeded splendidly but left them empty regardless.

All that happened to me. So, I relate.

The Wreckage of Trial and Error

The search for meaning is fraught with the wreckage of trial and error. The New Ager will devote herself to The Law of Attraction or some similar abundance program, and wilt when the promise doesn’t materialize, or when after it does, she finds herself wondering, “Is that all there is?”

She then finds a similar program, meditates on it for a bit, and finally shrugs her shoulders and becomes a Buddhist — anything to avoid Christ and his antiquities and suspected hypocrisies.

The Holy Spirit, ever patient, finds ways to introduce Christ to his wayward child. The child resists, but the Holy Spirit never ceases and will continue to try to draw his child towards Christ until the child is old and withered, facing her last battleground.

Often, it is during our last breath of oxygen that, after all that trial and error, we finally succumb to the Holy Spirit’s voice, perhaps because during our final frantic hope for meaning, or, perhaps, salvation, it’s the only legitimate, authoritative, qualified voice available to offer the kind of inner peace needed for solace at our death.

The Holy Spirit, that part of God that lies within each of us, never fails to offer his grace, even if our acceptance of him only comes with our last, gasping, dying breath. Although we achieve salvation in that final hour, we will have missed out within the scope of our earlier years on the rich fullness of love that he provides.

What I’ve learned is that, whether through the resurrection suggested by Easter or something else (we really can’t know the truth behind stuff that was written 2,000 years ago by half-crazed barbarians), a spirit resides within me, and everyone, whether we like it or not.

He’s an uninvited guest. He’s (see notes below for gender questions on God) constantly tapping us on the shoulder. He offers what people in AA have long called that small still voice within. It’s the voice that tells us not to take that drink (but we do, anyway) or to resist giving that driver the finger.

And when life becomes most challenging, when darkness attempts to extinguish the light around me, my uninvited guest provides me a burst of strength when I have none of my own.

Who is Christ, anyway?

Generally, people who don’t believe Jesus existed at all will never be swayed by someone who says he did. I don’t think it much matters, even to him. All that matters is what you do with the information given to you in whatever form doesn’t make you wretch in disbelief.

I had a friend once who told me that Mr. Potato Head was his higher power. I had another friend who said she could conjure old spirits in her house to help guide her through her day. She blessed my new house one day with some kind of unfamiliar Wiccan thing, and I felt the presence of whatever good thing she was conjuring. And it stayed there. It never left.

Buddhists have Buddha, and Native Americans believed in a world of different spiritual incarnations, depending on the nation.

For me, Christ is an amalgamation of all of these. I happen to believe that a human named Jesus lived, and I happen to also believe he was divine, but I don’t think, despite everything evangelical Christians tell the world, that he is obsessed that you also believe it.

All humility comes from whatever we define as a divine source. It’s not a human invention. To think that Jesus and/or God will throw you into hell because you don’t believe in him flies in the face of everything taught in the New Testament about forgiveness, humility, and love.

The God I believe in craves my love, but doesn’t punish me when I don’t give it. He resides within me as a spirit guide, a friend, a source of strength, but he does so unconditionally. If I kick him out, he waits a bit until I get into more trouble, then kicks me in the shin like a little kid reminding me that he’s still here.

As for his corporeal, historical self, one thing we can’t do, logically, is acknowledge that he existed and not assume he was crazy if we think he wasn’t divine.

If I came to you and told you that I was the son of God, what would be your reaction? You’d laugh, or run away, or make a mental note in case the local police come knocking to investigate a serial murder.

C.S. Lewis addresses this question perfectly in his book, Mere Christianity, where he points out that any human who claims to be God must either be insane or God[i]. There is no middle ground here.

The notion that Jesus was a great philosopher, which many people say, cannot be true. I don’t know about you, but I would ignore the rants of anybody in our modern world who claims to be the Son of God.

So I choose to believe he was divine. I also think there are probably other divinations out there. Was Buddha divine? Possibly so. God speaks to each of us in different ways. Nobody gets to claim a monopoly. Nobody has the right to start wars over it.

Here is where a fundamentalist will screech that the Book of Joshua and other Old Testament books were all about correcting wayward Jews who worshipped the “wrong” gods.

Photo by Photo Boards on Unsplash

No, those books were about genocide, and using God as an excuse to crush other people. That those books made it into the biblical canon was a reflection of chest-thumping men with patriarchal agendas who stuck a spear against a scribe’s neck and told him what to write. They were not a reflection of God.

What is Easter?

Jesus never said, “Thou shalt not be gay” or “Thou shalt not be a prostitute.”

Instead, he looked beyond the stone tablets of Moses and replaced them with two commandments: Love God with all your heart and soul and love your fellow humans. Every other act of human kindness and proper living, once we have accepted this simple tenet, falls into place once those two commandments are followed.

The finality of this substitution of the old covenant with the new is highlighted in this reference to Mosaic laws the apostle Paul makes in Colossians:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

~ Colossians 2:20–23

This was an admonishment against the ad-hoc regulations invented by (mostly) men to elicit the kind of behavior they desire from us to (usually) enhance their power. Regulations that have nothing to do with God.

God is something else, something that seems incomprehensible and out of the grasp of fundamentalists. At his essence, God is a provider of comfort. He’s not here to help you make more money or get one over on someone else or help you win a baseball game.

He’s a guiding light who offers comfort and strength in times of trouble, and once we are fully in tune with him, at all times, troubled or not.

If our soul is truly in union with that ultimate spirit guide, the Holy Spirit, then when we ask God, “Should I do this?” before we commit to an act, no matter the kind of act, he will answer us with that still small voice within.

We may reject his advice, but God will still love us. He will usually, also, show us how we messed up by not following his advice, which is yet another demonstration of God’s love for us.

My explanation for why Christ died on the cross was that he used it as an opportunity to forgive those common moments we fail to be Christ-like and are more like King David of the Old Testament, when he was captivated by an alluring sunbathing woman, bedded her, and hid the act from his friend Uriah, the sunbather’s hubby, by shipping him to the front lines to be killed before he could find out.

Or when the apostle Paul, before finding Christ, cheered a crowd as they stoned the apostle Stephen, or when he hauled Christians out of their homes to be persecuted by Roman soldiers. Christ and the Holy Spirit are familiar with duplicity, deceit, lies, and sexual malignancies far greater than anything we can show him. And God has demonstrated a willingness, repeatedly, to forgive them.

This Christ-given forgiveness can’t be overemphasized. When you accept that forgiveness, it changes you. It removes the stress of guilt and shame from your life and allows you to potentially operate in this mortal world without any significant stress (and less stress does indeed lead to better health).

A Christ-like existence is something you can only strive for and is always based on only one thing, the sanctifying power of love. It’s a simple rule that Christ asks us to follow. Love him, so that you can love your neighbor.

He’s not asking for your love because he is clingy. He’s asking for it because he knows that if you fill yourself with love, you will live a happier life. When you treat people well, you’re generally in a better place.

You may not believe in him, and if you don’t, you most likely have some very good reasons. But he believes in you. It’s why he keeps stalking you, even when you ask him to go away.

And it’s why there’s a strange essence that surrounds our Easter Sundays, even for those of us who reject him entirely. The day somehow seems different than others.

Something has settled in. If you listen carefully, you might just hear it say a few words of encouragement to you, especially if you can block out the screaming voices of the lunatics who demand a form of worship that was never intended.


[i] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity (London: Garden City Pres Ltd., 1952), page 41.

The gender question (Medium friend link, no paywall):

Is God a Transexual?

Thanks for reading!

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