This year I spent Easter in a way like no other…with friends, at a bay area campground. Apparently Anthony Chabot was a pretty special guy in the day. His name is all over the place. Of course thoughtful evaluation would now condemn him for bringing civilization to this area by commandeering native lands for the US government. Still, here we all sit in our blissful hypocrisy: carnivores and vegans; parents and grandparents; atheists, buddhists, ex-Mormons/JW/Catholic, a couple of evangelicals; English spoken as a first and second language. We sit in our diversity united by the odor of campfire clinging to our clothes and hair. We’ve enjoyed presence, conversation, amazing food (two professional chefs among us) and a toddler’s poop through the folding chair, on the dog bed, in the dirt. Smoke (and other odors), and much laughter waft upward through the towering eucalyptus above us.
On Sunday’s crisp, sunny afternoon my friend sits down and asks the question on everyone’s mind at some point. “So, what’s a professional like you doing in a group like this on the biggest calendar day of the Christian year?” Ok, actually, he just said, “So is it weird for you to not be in church on Easter?”
We’ve been here before, he and I, in different versions, at different locations, usually imbibing one of our favorite adult beverages. He, actually, is my best and most free sounding board for re-thinking accepted 21st century, North American, evangelical norms. Our mutual respect allows us to own our flawed thinking, in process. He keeps me honest while I keep him moderately mystified around my ability to be critical of Christian tradition, even before he is. I think he senses honesty in me, and grace.
But it got me thinking, as did the morning walk with G-o-d (my pilot), and D-o-g (my co-pilot), as did the second morning hike with G-o-d and w-i-f-e and d-o-g on Easter morning. Where two are gathered, Jesus is present. Two members of the body, with the Head. Perhaps very little of what we’ve defined as “essential church,” is. Yet all over the world my heart is united with those exalting a risen Savior, who is High King, worthy of exclusive worship, and my only source of life and truth of the ultimate variety. We prayed for all our Western District churches, felt one with them, and our children’s churches in the midwest, knowing we were joining them in worship of the risen One!
My friends have been driven from these truly life-giving hopes. Generational and cultural skepticism because of a politically-driven culture has resulted in the mis-applied enthusiasm of a legislative focus on the family. Today’s evangelical is perceived as something less than gracious, something mean-spirited, something immoral. As an evangelical, I may want to argue with their perceptions of me, and conclusions about my believing family, but this Easter I was struck with my responsibility for an inaccurate view of the gospel. If Jesus refused to defend Himself for the sake of the salvation of those who “…know not what they do…” then would it not be to be like Jesus to reconfigure my disposition for my friends?
Our group was genuinely and universally surprised that the Greek word for “evangel” is translated “good news.” Instead, they’ve surmised that evangelism, evangelicals, and the evangel itself translates to “bad news.” It occurred to me that our culture is moving toward a godless existence, in part prompted by my own mis-conveyed gospel characteristic.
This Easter we spent good time with some of our favorite people. It occurred to me that we’re hitting an historic reset button. The people Paul encountered in Athens are much like the people I encounter. They had not heard such good news, had no categories for a risen Savior. When they invited him to hang around for some more conversation, it became clear that our news is really very good, when understood clearly. That delivery, in our day, is best received in a context of respectful and loving relationship.
I think it was, for Judy and I, Easter as Jesus would have wanted it.