UNBELIEVER’S EASTER
by Edward Frost

In a newsletter column a few years ago I castigated our denominational bookstore in Boston for selling little chalices made of chocolate–little replicas of what is perhaps the primary symbol of our faith our symbol of the light of truth, of sacrifice and hope, little chocolates stamped with a chalice and wrapped in tinfoil. I was incensed that, once again, our religious movement had managed to shoot itself in the foot and once again actually be as silly as Garrison Keillor says we are. That done, I mounted Rocinante, holstered my lance and rode on to right other wrongs.
Then, lo and behold, what did I see on a supermarket shelf a day later but boxes of chocolate crosses! And, in the Faith and Values section of my local paper was a lead article extolling the comparative virtues of hollow or solid chocolate crosses. They make wonderful centerpieces, the article said, or you can just enjoy the sinfully sweet taste of chocolate.
Perhaps there is one true religion after all.
Think of it, millions of Christians who were brought to tears by the ghastly gore of Mel Gibson’s perversion of the Passion of Christ who will then buy chocolate replicas of that infamous barbaric instrument of torture as an Easter dinner centerpiece. One hardly knows whether to laugh or despair. Now that I’ve drifted in to retirement from my decades of laughing, ruminating and despairing over American religion,
I can confess that I have for decades struggled with Unitarian Universalism’s inability to pull both feet out the mire of holidays long since morphed into more cultural than religious celebrations and I can just decide that Christmas and Easter have nothing to do with me.
As for the UUA’s bookstore selling chocolate crosses –I don’t know if I would charge off on that horse again. Having been retired from full time ministry for five years now, A little bit of interest about how the UUA amuses itself slips away little by little, year by year. Maybe, too, a little bit of that once-clarion call to defend the commercial cultural phenomenon of Easter and mold it somehow into a Unitarian Universalist Festival has also faded to a disappearing point on the horizon.
What would have happened, I’ve wonder, if this morning we had sung hymns about how wonderful it is that the planets align themselves as they do and suppose I had preached on the moral significance of quantum theory. Well, not that— but I might have preached more productively this morning on the right to choose, the right to die, the right of every child to health and happiness.
What is Easter all about anyway? Well, it’s about what the Apostle’s Creed says:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

That’s really it. That’s what Easter is all about –and anything else any group makes of it is, well, is making something else out of it. Now, if I believed that the Teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, who was executed by the Romans for sedition, had been dead, buried in a cave for three says, and had then come alive again–if I did believed that, I assure you, I would celebrate it. Of course I would. Maybe not with chocolate eggs. And certainly not with chocolate chalices. And I probably wouldn’t understand what rabbits have to do with it. But I would celebrate such an extraordinary event as a great Teacher brutally killed–and rising bodily from death. And so I fully understand—fully understand—why those who do believe that about Jesus rising up from the dead celebrate Easter.
But, I have to be honest with you–and don’t think I have ever actually come right out and said this to a congregation—I don’t believe that happened. I know millions of good people believe it–and sometimes I wish I did. But I just don’t. I believe there was a Jesus from the town of Nazareth, who was a Teacher—perhaps a rabbi, but maybe not. He had a following. I believe he did say some of the things the Christian scriptures say he said.
He said beautiful things. He spoke to the demons within us. I believe he healed some who were sick. He spoke truth to justice. He gave hope to the poor and oppressed. And I do believe he died at the hands of the Romans under the urgings of the Sadducees and Pharisees who considered him a threat to established doctrine. The Romans allowed their conquered nations to administrate many of their own laws but they did not allow them to execute. So the enemies of Jesus got the Romans to do it for them. Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. That’s what I believe.
I think that’s what most Unitarian Universalists believe–or what most Unitarian Universalistdo not believe—so why do we continue to refer to “Easter Sunday?”
A wise and good Unitarian Universalist minister, The late Max Coots, heard the question often enough and offered and explanation. He wrote poetically–

We need a celebration that speaks the Spring
-inspired word about life and death,
And us as we live and die,
Through all the cycling seasons, days and years,
we need the sense of deity to crack our own hard, brown December husks
and push life out of inner tombs and outer pain.
Unless we move the seasons of the self,
And Spring can come for us, The winter will go on and on.
And Easter will remain a myth,
and life will never come again, despite the fact of Spring.

I’ve always liked that piece by Max Coots; I particularly approve the idea that “We need a celebration that speaks the Spring-inspired word about life and death, And us as we live and die. I heartily agree that, after weeks of clouds, rain, cold, and snow, days like those we enjoy in the past week–days of sunshine and warmth—make me feel like celebrating something momentous; Oh, Spring. Hallelujah. O blessed daffodils and forsythia, hellebores and Japanese magnolias. O Holy fruit trees ablaze all over the towns and cities. Bring me my lyre and tamborine my flute and horn. For “Spring has now unwrapped the flowers..” Tra la la la la la la lah.” Coots was right. There should be Celebration of all that. And we should call it something.
But I’ve become philosophically, theologically and ministerially tired of calling it “Easter,” I don’t believe that all that wonderful Springness is just a metaphor for a religious dogma. The joys of Spring are worthy of its own celebration.
My lover’s quarrel with Max Coot’s ode to Spring is that he seems to insist that the celebration we need at this time of year must be Easter. He says if we don’t celebrate Spring winter will go on and on (and I could not live where winter goes on and one) but then he goes on to say that if we do not celebrate Spring “…Easter will remain a myth, and life will never come again, despite the fact of Spring.
Well, Easter will remain a myth—in my belief at least— because that’s what it is. The resurrection of a flesh and blood human being, is a myth. It’s a story invented by the early church to maintain the faith of the faithful. And it has definitely done that. And I’m happy for them. I’m glad for their hope and faith in victory of death. But in spite of spring and spring after spring and Easter after Easter after Easter I have continued to believe that resurrection is a myth…and my disbelief has not dulled my love of Spring one little peep of a baby mockingbird.
I happen to be a fan of the TV series “Seinfeld.” One of my favorite episodes is when George’s father, Frank, gets tired of all the celebrations he doesn’t believe in. So he invents one of his own. He calls it Festivus.
“Festivus For The Restofus” The celebration involves a pole. Just a pole. A plain, undecorated pole. Frank says the pole is sacred. And when people ask him what it means, he says, “Nothing.”
So, maybe that’s it. Festivus. Whatever. “The Celebration Formerly Known as Easter.” Celebrate it in Spring.
There is much to be said for remembering, if not the bodily resurrection, then the martyrdom of one who–even if he never lived, might as well have, for the life and teachings attributed to him set the ground for the best of western religion’s teaching. And, Unitarian Universalist preachers can be glad that there is the story of beautiful Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who was kidnapped by the god Hades and taken to the underworld. But every Spring she was allowed to return to Demeter and the sunlit world. That makes for a great Easter sermon metaphor. Equinox and the budding everywhere. Alleluia, indeed. The earth does awaken again and our thoughts do rise with the spring.
For me, it is enough.