Freedom is one of those words we wax eloquent about, whether we’re singing a patriotic hymn or weeping through a religious event at a football stadium, but when it comes to actually experiencing it, or demanding the reality of what freedom promises, we are remarkably reluctant to do so.
“I’d love to be free of oppressive taxes, fees, and mandated payments — especially since we rarely see any actual benefit from what is taken from us. Locally, no matter how many bonds we put through, our streets never do get fixed.”
Say that, and you generally get, “Oh, but we NEED taxes! They’re what fund our schools and police departments and military and government assessors and regulators and the enforcers of our rules.”
Yes, in our freedom, we have many rules that need to be enforced.
Rules about Easter
As it is in our civil existence, so it is — maybe more so — in our religious life, and around any major holiday like Christmas or Easter, the arguments start. One side announces that the holiday in question has pagan roots (which is generally true), and because of this, real Christians are obligated to not celebrate it. Indeed, they will incur God’s displeasure if they do so.
Another side announces that the pagan roots don’t matter, since sometime in the nebulous past an authoritative group of men (never women) assembled and determined that this particular holiday is now blessed by Christendom, for whom they speak, and all real Christians are obligated to celebrate it. Indeed, they will incur God’s displeasure if they do not do so.
In between are the details — in the case of Easter, it’s okay to eat a ham dinner, — unless one’s beliefs involve picking and choosing from Old Testament Hebraic laws — but not search for eggs. This latter is pagan, calling to mind worship of the fertility goddess, often concurrent with the spring equinox, which, thanks to the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., is the determining factor for Easter’s date.
Extra points are accorded to those who celebrate Sunrise Service, keeping in mind that we are celebrating the rising of the Son, as opposed to the Sun.
It’s difficult to know which rules to follow, given that — similar to our civil existence — there are so many of them, propounded by so many people, and it’s simply impossible to fulfill every one.
What Are We Celebrating, Anyway?
But isn’t this a central message of the risen Christ — a message that we’re taught is celebrated during Easter — that we are free — free from quibbling rules, free from offering a series of sacrifices, free from observing days and weeks and months in order to apologize to God for our less than perfect existence, and establish some kind of relationship from Him? After years of doing it on our own (the sacrificial system didn’t start with the Hebrews; mankind began offering propitiation to the gods from a very early time), Christ’s ultimate sacrifice is just that: the only thing that works.
It’s as if He’s telling us, “Stop doing all this stuff. It’s fruitless.”
Or, as He put it in His own words,
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
That’s good news, but before we absorb and begin to ponder its implications, someone is sure to remind us of Matthew 5:17, in which Christ says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” All this freedom and love stuff is great, many Christians concede, but it does not take us off the hook from following rules in order to secure God’s favor.
Obviously, because we’re civilized, only the most extreme would advocate slaughtering a goat outside the church door and burning its carcass on the decorative altar table next to the pastor’s podium, so we adjust our rules accordingly: attend church services, participate in Sunday School, be part of a small group, don’t swear, join an approved ministry — do things.
Without rules, without obligations, without things to do, we are told, anarchy will reign, and people will do bad things!
But will they? When we, as Christians, focus not on the updated rules that have been established for us but rather on God, our incredible, loving, gracious, accepting, merciful, astounding, majestic Father, will we really start smashing windows downtown and stealing things from businesses? Is God’s impact on our lives so little, His spirit indwelling our heart so powerless, that, without leashes, we act like naughty dogs?
Sadly, this is not an outrageous conclusion, and when — sometime later this month — Christians of all denominations gather to celebrate Resurrection Sunday (that’s the new, cool replacement for the word, Easter), there is much focus on the songs matching the theme of the specials, which match the theme of the pastor’s sermon, and possibly coalesce with the design on the pastor’s tie, all seguing together to form a performance that captivates the attention of visitors (Easter is the Superbowl of church attendance). But will we “get” what it is we’re actually celebrating?
Because if we don’t, and if we remain slaves to rules and regulations and obligations and a system of sacrifice, then we’re right back to where we were 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 years ago — confused, bereft, and mentally distanced from our God.
It doesn’t matter how, or if, we celebrate Easter, and whether or not we call it Resurrection Sunday, and if we eat ham or not, or search for eggs — what matters is that we are free in Christ, and exploring this concept will take much, much more than one day a year, scheduled on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.
Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. I started out as a Catholic, converted into a Protestant, and then eventually, just focused on Christianity.
Posts complementing this one are
What Does “Real” Church Look Like?
Why You Don’t — And Won’t — Fit In
Freedom. This word seems so hard for most of us to grasp (whether it means freedom in the nation or freedom in Christ). I had a discussion awhile back with a friend (who now won’t speak to me) on the topic of freedom. Specifically, religious freedom in America. My point was that we do not rely on the government or Constitution to grant us freedom if we are Christians. We only get freedom from Christ, and no one can take that away. She was very distraught and stated that if we allowed gay marriage to be legal, we would no longer have “religious” freedom. I don’t see the connection if we are looking at real freedom. Yes, government can dictate how we share our faith, but it cannot take it away. I think we have totally missed the mark on what real “freedom” is. We may have to adjust how we SHARE our beliefs with others, but no government can completely dictate it or truly take it away. Many Christians look at freedom as something someone in the government gives, but it is really only attainable in Christ.
Isn’t it sad, Jewell, that relationships can be broken because one person asks questions and makes observations, and the other one is afraid to do so? You are so right — when we rely on the government to grant our freedom, we don’t actually have any, but through God, our freedom is constant, regardless of what our government does. Church Christianity is so trained to look to patriotism, the military, authority, and government to dictate what is right, that those who follow this don’t rely on the God in whom they say they believe. He’s so wrapped up with country, that they’re not allowing Him to operate in their lives.
Ah, gay marriage. It’s been such a divisive issue, and the central result seems to be anger and bitterness. Not a good sign, but the resulting emotions are, I believe, exactly what is intended. As Christians, it is our comfort and our wisdom to consult God on this matter, and all other matters that are put forth to provoke strong emotions, and not play the game of the (earthly) powers that be.