At Radnor, a State Park in Nashville, tiny buds and opening blooms sprinkle the ground and sky. I cannot scan any part of the landscape without being accosted by the green. New growth is nearly neon, glowing in intensity, while the maturing buds settle into a deeper, less pretentious green. It is gorgeous, but feels particularly aggressive on an early spring morning when the temperature is so low that such signs of life feel out of place. Walking in the cold, seeing my breath, surrounded by dead things, new life assaults the eyes.
My favorite thing about the Torah is the way God chooses unexpected people to lead and become heroes of the story. Jacob, a greedy liar who doesn’t understand family, becomes the selfless Father of the nation of Israel. Joseph, a self-centered jerk, given to hyperbolic delusions of grandeur, is mistreated terribly as God teaches him to embody patience, forgiveness and restraint as he saves a nation from starvation. Moses, adopted, a felon, and not great with words, is chosen by God to speak up to Pharaoh and lead Israelites out of slavery and into freedom.
The trend continues in the New Testament of Christians, as a random group of diverse and disagreeable men are united by Jesus to change the world through love. Jesus consistently elevates unexpected folks, from having dinner with greedy traitors, to often telling stories where the hero was a person shunned out on the street. Indeed, Jesus regularly invested in women, teaching them as if they had the intellect of rabbis, charging them as if they had the courage of warriors, and trusting them as if they had the loyalty of a close brother in a time when women had little to no legal or cultural standing.
Jesus consistently found value in folks overlooked or ignored by others. Like God in the Old Testament, the Christ saw value where others did not. It seems to me that the modern American church has lost sight of this core consistency strung through Judaism and Christianity. Most of us seem to have traded the God who crafts a story around a person usually pushed to the margins by making her the hero, for a God who backs the biggest, strongest, meanest guy in the room. Rather than going into the world with nothing, depending on our Creator to meet our needs, our Father to guide and comfort us, and our Messiah to justify and protect us, we horde wealth, blame others with fear, and pretend like God hates all the same people we do. We are, I’m afraid, terrible at bearing witness to the life and passion and purpose of Christ as the embodiment of the Holy Scripture.
This is why I love Passover and Easter. The central holidays of the Jewish and Christian calendar are about hope existing in the midst of death. For Jews, Passover reminds us that even when all seems lost, God will somehow provide protection. It reminds us that the way to be in the world is not to shout louder or to get a bigger gun, but to huddle close with those you love, share a fabulous meal and pray that God will protect you. Likewise, Easter reminds Christians that the way the God of the universe decided to take care of God’s people was through sacrifice. In the Christian story, pain and suffering are not meaningless, but are shared with hope. Death is not the end, but a natural part of a cycle always leading back to life.
The natural world reveals to us that there is no birth without rebirth. We do not live independently, but as part of vast ecosystems that follow a pattern: death and decay leading to nourishment and life. This Passover and Easter, I am thankful I follow a God who doesn’t ask me to win. Instead, God reminds me that getting low, being overlooked or betrayed, feeling wounded beyond repair, hurting deep in my secret places, is not the end of the story. In God’s telling, these places of pain and death are inhabited by the God who made us, and whose very world is predicated on the idea that death leads to life.
Easter, for me, is not about victory, or winning, or power. It is about a God who sends a tiny bud of neon green to light up a death-ridden forest floor. It is about a God who chooses a hero from a group of outcasts. It is about a God whose death destroyed his closest friends, but whose miraculous resurrection soon gave them hope, as he fed them a meal and gave them a communal purpose, inviting them deeper into the mysterious ways of God than they thought they could go.
This week, when the ubiquitous green catches you off guard, or when an overlooked colleague finds recognition, or when you find comfort in a painful moment, or when you feel solidarity with an ostracized person, I hope you will remember the arc of the story of the Judeo-Christian God is actually a cycle, where death is never the end, but a pathway to new life.