Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Easter Bunny and the Golden Calf: What to do When God Disappears

How is the Easter Bunny any different for today's church-going "Christian" than the Golden Calf was for the Israelites in the wilderness?

That sounds like a ludicrous comparison but consider what the Golden Calf represented for the Children of Israel. To start with, the calf did not represent a betrayal of God, but rather a symbolic and tangible effort to remind them of the God to Whom they wish to remain faithful. They had just experienced God's deliverance in unique, powerful and personal ways and the last thing they wanted was to deny or betray Him. They had erroneously placed God's presence equal to Moses' presence and when Moses disappeared for a long period of time, the people panicked and did what people do: They generate a way to remember by creating "images" that they can look at, touch, dance or sing with that for them represents their allegiance to God. (This raises the whole issue of putting our spiritual status vicariously into the lives of our religious leaders. Perhaps a blog for another time.)

Today we call this substitutionary environment "church".

The Israelites were afraid of mystery and the unknown. We are too, for that matter. The dangerous temptation is to allow our "wilderness" moments to suck us into domesticating the God who refuses domestication even to the point of making the first commandment a complete prohibition against this common but often misidentified religious practice. The Israelites could not handle living with a God they couldn't "feel" or "know" so in order to stay faithful, so they thought, they asked their leader to provide them with something to prevent them from forgetting, something to help them remain true to their intentions.

Sadly this was a mistake by well-intended people and a mistake by a well intended leader, Aaron. God was not to be reduced to that which the people could see, feel or even understand.

The Easter Bunny is now identified with the miraculous wonder associated with the Resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing inherently wrong with a bunny any more than there is anything wrong with a cow. Both are creatures of God. I would dare guess that no Christian when confronted would dare admit to placing the bunny in a position of reverence any more than an Israelite would have thought they were replacing God with the golden calf. They would laugh at the naivete of such a question because Christians today would see the bunny as the Israelites would have seen the calf: as a God-created being and therefore a helpful reminder of Someone that want to experience and never forget. 

A second consideration in this comparison is how leadership responds to and support the people's percieved "need". Aaron was no doubt afraid of the loss of God as well and when the people came to him for assistance, instead of struggling with the difficult and confusing dilemma of God's apparent absence, he did what leaders who want to retain their position (or remain "true to their calling): He led! He had an idea that made sense to him, pleased the people, and solved "the problem". Unfortunately, God would've rather he just languished in the frustration of the Unknown and let God be God.

To relate with God requires diving into the deep end of the pool with no ability to swim. Easter Sunday will in my opinion be another shining example of humanity's inability to face the demostrable and life-altering reality of resurrection. Instead, many good ideas, presentations, songs, videos, sermons (golden calves all!) will be produced to allow people to see, touch and "feel" a God who remains vastly beyond all of this. The resurrection cannot be contained in a tomb- no matter how many fragrances we bring to make it smell better.

Imagine an Easter service (every Sunday for that matter) where people gather to wonder and share their daily joys and struggles being people of the Resurrection- an event that alters the landscape of life. Instead of "showtime", the people dive into "no-show time"- when we feel what the Israelites felt when Moses was gone and what the disciples felt when God was gone. The resurrection of Jesus was something God did and when that miracle happens in lives, it cannot be ignored and neither can it be reduced to a memorial bunny or mult-colored eggs- let alone an hour of spectacular presentation to a room full of fearful, confused yet apparently satisfied people.

As long as the cow and bunny are in revered positions of religous reminder, people can feel comfortable with remembering God. For most "believers" this will be good enough. The Israelites danced and played in the presence of God's memorial. People will sing and clap in churches on Easter Sunday.

A bunny, a cow and a spectacular Easter show can be good, I suppose, and serve a valuable purpose. They just are not good enough for me and I'm guessing, for God. God is a wonder beyond our great ideas and presentations. God resides at times in mountains filled with smoke and tombs covered by great stones. It's at times like this that gatherings must fight off the temptation to memorialize and instead encourage one another with the felt absence of God as we wait and wonder if Moses will return or Jesus will rise. The resurrection generates earthquakes, not goosebumps.

What may appear to be a good idea to us in bringing us close to God may be the very act or idea that keeps us from God.

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