Can an Atheist Celebrate Easter?

“He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” 
(Matthew 28:6a, NRSV)
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Today is April 1, 2018, a day that is simultaneously my wedding anniversary, April Fool’s Day, and, this year, Easter Sunday. All around the world Christians are celebrating the most improbable event in history: the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ministers will fill their pulpits and preach from texts like Matthew 28 or 1 Corinthians 15. Congregants will sing songs like “Christ Arose” or “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Some churches will even hold a sunrise service as a way to reenact Matthew 28:1 – “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”

As both a non-Christian and an atheist, there is nothing about the celebration of Easter as commemorating the literal, historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead that I find compelling. I do not find any reason to believe that after he was brutally tortured and then crucified by the Romans, Jesus rose again from the dead. There just isn’t good evidence to support such a belief. So instead of singing hymns or telling my friends “He is risen!” I will have silly little baskets for my children and will probably hide dyed eggs in the yard for them to find. If they ask me about Jesus I will of course tell them that some people believe that after he died he came back to life. If they ask me what I believe, I will tell them that I don’t think that it happened and that they will need to look at the evidence for themselves. Nevertheless, there is something about Easter that is special. Much of it is in my imagination but I still must consider it. Please bear with me.

Jesus died. His disciples were not expecting such a turn of events. I doubt even Jesus expected it. But the Gospel writers wrote with the events of the cross in their background and so we see glimpses of what would happen to Jesus throughout their writings. But they maintain the disciples’ unbelief and so as we read the Gospel accounts of the resurrection we should do so with an eye for what they must have been feeling. With the announcement of the resurrection and the appearances of Jesus to them, their fear became zeal. For if Jesus could conquer death, then he could do anything.

In some ways, then, the story of Jesus’ resurrection is the story of how fear can give way to hope. It is a story of how even in the midst of the worst of life, things can turn around and we can find some sort of joy. Life seems to be nothing but a roller coaster of pain and anguish. Last year I had to bury my younger brother, a thirty-year old Airman who took his own life and left behind two young children. The darkness has been real for me and I know it has been for my nephews. But every so often, the sun breaks through the clouds. Hope remains. Love endures.

This is the story of Easter for me. No, Jesus didn’t rise from the grave. He has been dead now for two-thousand years. But Easter is more than that. Easter is about hope. Easter is about pain. Most of all, Easter is about love. It is about faith in those around us even when we have no faith in ourselves, finding in them love and support.

This is what I celebrate on this Easter Sunday.

Happy Easter, comrades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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