I had my suspicions about this and now I know that I was correct. By living here in the desert where we have had a particularly nice winter, we miss some of seasonal symbolism of Easter. I visited my old homeland in Indiana last week where rebirth was evident. Although I had the coldest day of my winter there, family and friends I visited were speaking in cheerful, optimistic tones about the end of winter finally coming and the joy of warm spring days.
Signs of resurrection were all around. Students were wearing shorts, grass was being cut for the first time, tulips were blooming everywhere and the garden shops were doing a brisk business. The most powerful witnesses of resurrection were the wonderful hardwood forests where I spent so much time when I was young. Fresh green leaves were sprouting from branches gone too long bare and the sun sifted through the branches, splashed by the vivid colors of Dogwood and Redbud trees.
As we start closing up the house and turning on the air conditioning, back east the windows are flung open, as if the houses themselves are taking their first breath of fresh air in a long time.
The Christian Feast of Easter is scripturally linked to Passover, the celebration of the release of the Children of Israel from the Egyptian captivity. Passover begins on the 15th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. Nisan is the first month of the ecclesiastical year when the creation of the world is remembered.
It might not be as obvious in Southern Hemisphere, or to those of us who live here in the Valley of the Sun, but for those who live in cold winters of short days, spring is about rebirth and all the forces of nature proclaim that life has triumphed over death and, as the days lengthen, light has overcome the darkness.
If we contain Easter to historical events of the first century, even in its spiritual and supernatural context, we are selling ourselves short. In a far larger sense, Easter is about new and transformed life that prevails against the darker forces of our existence, and we are called to participate in it.
Scripturally there are two very different visions of how and when the new creation, or to use more familiar biblical language, the Kingdom of God will become part of human existence. In 1st Thessalonians, St. Paul assures those who are anxious about the deaths of loved ones before the return of Jesus, that the honored dead will be the first to greet the coming of the kingdom. Jesus will return to praise the faithful for a job well done.
In sharp contrast to Paul’s pastoral image, John of Patmos wrote in Revelation of a violent cosmic conflict in which those who have failed to carry out the will of God will be punished for their failure.
The reformer, Martin Luther felt that Revelation was an inferior work and, along with others, argued for its removal from the New Testament canon. He wrote that Revelation was “neither apostolic nor prophetic.”
Revelation is certainly more sensational, and given the way violence is accepted and glorified in our culture, it is no wonder that there is such an obsession with John’s strange visions. I, however, prefer to see the kingdom of God and the new creation in the sprouting of the trees, the blooming of spring flowers and the little resurrections that I see around me every day.
• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.