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Spring break seems early this year. But then it has been a mild winter
here in Seattle. Perhaps Al Gore was right — and global warming is
becoming a reality? Certainly the source — all the hot air generated by
our politicians in Washington, D.C. — has been inordinately active this
year. I hope the Easter Bunny has taken note, and protects all those
chocolate eggs.

I deliberately opened this column with the words “spring break,” and not
Easter. I wondered how many readers would register a silent protest? For
I am continually amazed by the power words have to shape our thoughts,
attitudes, and actions. I am heartened, however, that despite the public
school system’s efforts to slam the door on God’s fingers by ignoring
Easter, one of the most important religious holidays in the world, a
recent Yankelovich poll reports that 55 percent of Americans chose Jesus
as the top Easter symbol. And 41 percent of non-Christians associate
Jesus and the cross with Easter.

As with so many things in our lives today, this time we set aside as
Easter has at least two competing stories to explain its existence. One
is the tale of a benevolent bunny hopping about our neighborhoods,
distributing baskets of chocolate eggs and other treats to generally
appreciative children. The other story is of a God who through a sheer
act of will raised His Son from the dead — following his brutal murder
on a cross three days earlier — by human beings disenchanted with his
message. The word “Easter” sounds the same in either case; but like the
hollow, plastic eggs in our children’s baskets, the meaning inside can be
very different, depending upon the neighborhood we find ourselves in.

For many people, the Easter Bunny is an entirely satisfactory story. It
is a godsend for shopping malls and politicians, who can benefit through
increased sales and public appearances, with little worry of upsetting
their base. The Easter Bunny asks nothing of us in return for his
efforts, except perhaps the momentary squeals of delight from the
children he has blessed with candied goodies — and ultimately a trip to
the dentist.

God, on the other hand, asks things that we as human beings find
difficult to deliver. One is that we stop lying to ourselves about our
own self-sufficiency; another that we give up our personal agendas, and
join Him in the work of His Kingdom. In return, He promises to co-labor
with us, in a relationship that will last beyond death and the grave, and
stretch across eternity itself. To those who have not as yet confronted
the choice, it may seem like a poor bargain. But on the other hand, they
may not have given much thought to the alternative. “What do you mean —
give up my hopes, my dreams, my desires — and pursue Someone else’s
agenda? Why — what kind of a world would it be if everyone did that?”

Good question. Perhaps it’s a world worth pondering?

Many of us, when pressed, seem to harbor the notion that at heart God is
little different from the Easter Bunny. He hops in and out of our lives,
handing out goodies, occasionally answering prayers, unconcerned with
anything except our momentary squeals of joy at such unexpected good
fortune. Because we like the path we are on, it’s easy to convince
ourselves that — in the end — all roads lead to heaven. Changed lives
and hearts are optional; they’re fine if that’s what works for you.

Do we ever stop to think that if this were the case, how could heaven be
any different from life today here on earth? Would not eternity then,
too, be populated by greedy, selfish, power-hungry men and women — each
intent on pursuing his or her own agenda — often at the expense of
others? That the cost of war, famine, disease, and genocide would be
deemed acceptable steps to the achievement of national goals? If all
roads lead to heaven — where do the Jews sign up to be governed for an
eternity under Hitler — and the Christians under Stalin or Mao? Perhaps
your roommate in heaven will be a murderer, rapist, or child molester?

Jesus, of course, taught something rather different about the roads
leading to eternity. The huge crowds that he attracted overwhelmed and
frightened the religious rulers of His day. A common observation was that
He taught “with authority.” His message — that God was concerned with
the heart, not just the outside of the Easter egg — won the loyalty of
those burdened with the legalistic road signs of their day — but garnered
him few followers among the religious leaders who had erected them.
Matthew, one of Jesus’ biographers, writes that Jesus put it this way:

“Knowing the correct password — saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance —
isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious
obedience — doing what my Father wills. I can see it now — at the Final
Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached
the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had
everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed
the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t
impress me one bit. You’re out of here” (“The Message” by Eugene
Peterson).

When you think about it, doesn’t it make perfect sense that God has a
right to choose those men and women with whom He would like to spend
eternity? It is, after all, His Kingdom. So why would He choose those
whom He has grown to dislike, perhaps because of their treatment of
others? Why would He be interested in those who simply used Him? Why
admit to His eternal partnership those who turned their backs on Him and
walked away in this life — convinced that their personal agenda was more
important than His eternal one?

It’s very much like God to give us a choice, even for Easter. We can
explain to our children that it’s simply a celebration of a kind,
generous bunny who passes through the neighborhood every year at this
time, welcoming Spring. He hands out goodies and asks nothing in return.
Or we can explain to them that God was so concerned with each of us as
unique individuals who had wandered off on our own paths, that he sent
His Son to pave the way back to Him.

“Serious obedience — doing what my Father wills.” Jesus’ Cross is the
most costly road ever built; it alone stretches across eternity —
between where we are, and where God would have us to be. Easter is simply
God’s assurance that Jesus made it home safely. His prayer is that we
will follow the same road home.

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