But most of the world (and perhaps the United States) is not Christian. The question for all Christians who care about their fellow human beings and not only about other Christians is what does Easter symbolize that is universal in scope and does not require a commitment to Christianity?
I posit that the universal message of Easter is contained within the following assertions. First, Easter represents that one person can make a difference. The message of the Nazarene has transformed human thought and behavior for over 2,000 years. Even Christ-believing agnostics like Kurt Vonnegut suggest that the message of this one man inspires many to reject violence, employ compassion and to seek the greater good.
Many times, in this society, we wonder if what we do really makes a difference. Does it matter if we feed the hungry or care for the least among us? Does our vote really matter? Has the system of things become so corrupt and controlled by the rich and powerful that we as ordinary people have become insignificant? The universal message of Easter is that plain ol’ ordinary people can turn a community, a nation and a world upside down. Things do not have to be the way they are; it takes one person to step forward and say, “Enough is enough!”
Second, the message of Easter states that if we are willing to commit to something greater than our individual selves, our lives become eternal. We may die, but our work does not die. Allow me to explain: For most of us, our names will be forgotten in two generations. Hopefully, we will be remembered by our children and our grandchildren, but after that we will be forgotten. The powerful message of Easter says that if we commit to a cause of greater mundane existence, we will live eternally through our labor for a noble cause. The cause does not have to be “religious,” per se, but it must be noble. I am thinking about ASPCA, the fight against cancer, stopping human trafficking, revamping the judicial system, standing for racial and economic equity, being a den mother, volunteering at the VA, and on and on. I believe that the African American gospel song is true: “If I can help somebody along the way, then my living will not be in vain.” The truth of this song is greater than Christianity and is universally applicable regardless of whether one adheres to a faith claim or not. Authentic life, states Easter, is a life committed to something noble and greater than our selves.
Finally, the universal message of Easter is that nothing can overcome the power of love. The world is full of hatred. Our country is divided and angry. It looks like hatred and violence are winning. It is easy to give up hope and wallow in despair. Setting aside the theo-philosophical arguments that Christians present, the hope of Easter is that nothing can crucify, bury and kill love. I am not talking about gooey sentimentality or artificial lust, but true unconditional love. Love can save this democratic experiment called the United States in spite of the fact that three Black churches were burned last week; or that a 10-year-old girl was killed in a fight at school; or that human trafficking, drugs and human selfishness seem to be on the rise. In the words of bell hooks, “We overcome our issues and problems by adopting an ethic of love.” This is the message of Easter for my non-Christian friends.
About the writer: The Rev. C.W. Dawson Jr. teaches at Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College in Missouri, and writes for the Missourian.