On Sunday morning the Easter bunny comes, spreading around chocolates and jelly beans. Children get sugared up, and for most of the country spring weather will dominate (alas, we’ll still have snow). Christians celebrate their belief that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified. At the same time Jews celebrate the passover, their belief that God ‘passed them over’ when he killed all first born males in Egypt as a penalty for not freeing the Jews from slavery. While Islam accepts the passover story, and believes Jesus to be a prophet, they don’t believe he rose from the dead. Nonetheless, Ahmadinejad on releasing the British prisoners back in 2007 did say it was an “Easter gift” to respect the religious beliefs of the British.
Not believing in any particular mythology, I look at these holidays a bit differently. First, as with Christmas, I don’t want to deny or disrespect the importance of the holiday for believers. At the University of Minnesota once when I was registering for classes there was a big banner that said “Merry Christmas” on it. “Does that offend you?” the student at the registration desk asked. “No,” I replied, puzzled. “Oh,” he said, “another Political Science grad student registered today and she lit in to me that this ‘offensive’ sign was up.” I shook my head. Political correctness rears its ugly face!
Second, I also respect the cultural/traditional role of religious holidays. There is something to be said for shared cultural celebrations. And, as Christmas is a cultural celebration of peace, love, and joy, Easter I take as a celebration of forgiveness. Christians believe that Jesus died so that God could forgive our sins if we believe. I don’t share that view, but I think the fundamental importance of forgiveness in the Christian faith is a powerful idea, and perhaps one reason why Christianity has prospered as a faith.
Forgiveness is powerful because it appears we are doing something for others — we are forgiving them, when we could carry a grudge or try for revenge. But if done right, it is also done for ourselves. When one carries a grudge or seeks revenge, one is obsessing on a wrong that was done, or on anger to another person. That gives that other person, or that wrong, continuing power over ones’ emotion and life. It creates anxiety and stress and eats away from within. True forgiveness is not just refraining from being nasty back, but it requires that one really let go of any residue anger and resentment. If one does that, then one has reclaimed for oneself the ability to remain centered and in control. It liberates oneself from the negative affects of lingering anger.
Moreover, forgiveness has a social consequence — people respect one who can forgive. Those who have been forgiven, if they can let go of their guilt and lingering anger, often break out of a cycle of tit for tat and are able to look at their actions with a new light, perhaps finally understanding why what they did was perceived as a wrong. Forgiveness is personally liberating, and can spread and bring peace and increased contentment to a community. Again, the Christian emphasis on forgiveness is a truly admirable and powerful aspect of that great faith.
So on Easter, forgive those you’ve been resenting. See this as the day of reflection and forgiveness. With practice, it becomes easy; one realizes that by forgiving others one is better able to forgive oneself when the inevitable imperfections of human existence come out. Rather than be obsessed by guilt and self-hatred, the ability to forgive oneself allows one to act with more joy and energy, forgiving others and ultimately playing a part in making the world a better place. So happy Easter!