As the world continues to promote autonomous, individualistic self-sufficiency, increasingly so in western societies, it’s easy to wonder what relevancy Easter maintains for us as both a holiday and practice. Many of the holiday’s modern traditions appear to be cute, antiquated, and perhaps only politely observed out of cultural gesture and respect for elders who still believe.
As hoards of once-devoted followers leave the church (often as quickly as they first arrived), especially those of younger generations, we are left to ask the question, “Is the Easter season or day itself necessary any longer?” The idea of attempting to push one’s mind to what is undoubtedly an unfamiliar period of civilization and human history, provoking the imagination further and endeavoring to visualize the holy scenario in which a man, who is also God, is being crucified for every past, present, and future sin on the behalf of all peoples, who then rises again three days later to conquer and overcome death itself, can seem at best, beautifully out-of-date or wildly implausible. How can we believe what we have not seen? How can we be expected to trust, that even if this scenario played out the way the scriptures declare so boldly it did, there is someone who would actually love any of us enough to give their life on behalf of ours?
Speaking from experience, it’s markedly more difficult convincing someone they are genuinely loved and worthy of it than it is convincing them a Jewish man who is also God, died and rose again some two-thousand years ago. It’s not the fantastic part of the story keeping us from embracing and celebrating it, but the part where we are forced to confront that this God who speaks in kind, beautiful ways of a preposterous, impossible kind of love might actually mean what He says and that this love extends to us.
In February of 2018, health care giant, Cigna, conducted and released a 61-page study titled “Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index” in which it details that both Gen Z and Millennials are the #1 and #2 loneliest generations, respectively. It states that Gen Z (those who are currently 22 and younger) is the loneliest generation. Additionally, a recent report by Pew Research highlights that 70% of those surveyed identify anxiety and depression as primary struggles amongst their peers. While neither of these reports decisively conclude what the main drivers are behind these anxious feelings of isolation and depression, what is known is that the problem is real and not soon leaving. Resulting from these symptoms are increased aspirations to attain outlandish success, display strong performance, prove intellectual capabilities and demonstrate innovative thinking by striving and continually struggling to shoulder and exceed expectations of parents, teachers, peers, and ultimately themselves. Burnout is on the rise for a group of people who have barely scraped the surface of the workplace.
These particular challenges may uniquely face this collective of individuals, but they aren’t alone in their struggles. All of us struggle, and out of our struggling we aim to satisfy and quench the persistent dissatisfaction by whatever means necessary. We wander, each of us, in and out of different activities and lifestyles, each promising total and complete fulfillment.
In the fall of 2018, I spent nearly 40 days walking and wandering over 500 miles across Spain along the Camino de Santiago. Thousands of people come from all corners of the globe to retrace this historic route of pilgrimage. Each day brought with it twenty-ish more miles of sometimes effortless but ordinarily painful walking, re-filled blisters, sharp, unattractive tan-lines, and hours upon hours of thinking time. Although initially designated and adopted as a religious journey of devotion in which travelers pay homage to the Apostle James (as he is said to be buried in Santiago de Compostela), the way has now been more commercialized and is scarcely trekked for those same reasons. Regardless of why someone chooses to walk, confrontation with the cross and its depiction of Christ’s love hanging there is unavoidable. Even still, the majority of those who make this journey do so out of a place of wandering, which takes on many shapes and forms: some walk in honor of those who have passed away, delicately holding on to bottles of ashes in which the contents of are spread out amongst the dust, rocks, and flowers; there are those whose lives have taken unexpected turns from losing jobs to starting families to merely taking the next step, and they wish to find clarity; some purely wander for exercise and mental fortitude; even still, there are those who continue to follow after Christ into the vast wilderness, attempting to seek Him in the midst of the encroaching nothingness. As someone who holds his faith central to his identity, I too found myself wandering spiritually and emotionally, not too dissimilar from Christian, the protagonist in Paul Bunyan’s famed novel, A Pilgrim’s Progress.
What I know to be true of life, but certainly of that experience, is that everyone wanders. Whether admittedly or not, verbally articulated or introspectively housed, everyone searched for something; wandering became a means to fulfillment. Daily I mulled on these topics of wandering, searching, looking, hoping, and longing. It wasn’t until one day as I was forced to wait for a strewn-out heard of sheep and their weary, hard-faced shepherd that I recalled a prophetic scripture of Christ’s death & love that summed up so much of the experience.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him. -Isaiah 53:6 (MSG)
The Bible talks a lot about sheep; Jesus himself talks a lot about sheep. Not just sheep, but lost, wandering sheep. What is most striking about his wooly-laden dialogue isn’t so much describing what the sheep are like or what their interests, goals, ambitions, or thoughts are, but simply their wandering and eventual lostness.
Too often when we wander, those who should be most loving and compassionate are not; it can be easier to default to frustration, hurt, and anger than to try to fight for that person. Ironically, Christians (I place myself in this statement as well) are often the worst offenders when it comes to properly handling wandering, both with themselves and with others. This can lead to long-term hurt, offense, apathetic faith, or complete apostasy. Wandering itself unchecked eventually leads to becoming lost.
Jesus doesn’t approach those who are lost or wandering that way, though. In fact, all of Luke 15 is dedicated to how He thinks about those who are lost and wandering.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them,‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine [b]just persons who need no repentance.” - Luke 15: 4-7 (NKJV)
All of us have wandered; all of us have gone astray, many of us have strayed so far that we are unable to locate ourselves within the context of anything familiar and have become lost. There isn’t one of us who has lived a life devoid of wandering of some sort. The beauty is that there is One — Jesus — who is ready to come find us. His message is clear: Lost things are worth being found; those who wander are worth being sought after. This is the message of the cross itself.
Although the modern practice of Easter might seem unfamiliar or out-of-date, the message of the cross is anything but. Arguably, Easter and the conversation it facilitates around this kind of extravagant, compassionate, grace-filled, soul searching love that Jesus exhibited for us, is the most relevant thing we could be talking about in 2019. Too often the familiarity with the message of the cross is itself what hinders us from experiencing the fullness of what it offers. In a world of increased isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and fulfillment attempted to be found in anything else, the message of the cross and Jesus’ love which is bent on the total pursuit of the one who has wandered, even to the point of becoming completely lost, is the most necessary truth.
What could be more relevant than a love that welcomes home the son or daughter who feels completely unable to be loved or fought for?