“Who can tell me what Easter is about?” I asked.
My oldest, age eight, looks at me and sort of shrugs. “Chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs?”
“Totally,” I responded. It’s not like she was wrong. I know Easter is based on ancient pagan holidays that predate the Christian tradition by at least a couple thousand years. There’s the northern goddess from the “Eostre” celebration whose symbol was a rabbit. There’s the exchange of decorated eggs by ancient pagan cultures. There are the sweet breads dedicated to idols for the holiday. There’s the fact that Easter Day is still dictated by a moon phase. I know how to use Google.
Still, I couldn’t leave it alone. It is part of my tradition. And while I may have my own questions and internal struggles leftover from my evangelical past, I love the story of Jesus loving us so much that he takes one for the team. I’m more Mulder than Scully in that I want to believe.
“So, why is Easter important to Christians?”
I asked it casually, testing how much she had been paying attention to me over the years. Or possibly to the lessons her grandparents have been giving her when I’m out of the room because they don’t understand where I stand.
Again, she shrugged.
“Well, Christians believe that this is the day that Jesus rose from the dead,” I explain.
“Oh yeah,” says the eight-year-old, her eyes brightening. She looks at the four-year-old knowingly. “Jesus was a zombie.”
“No, not a zombie!” I say, my smile frozen into something akin to horror. I know she loves Jesus. She tells me this. Maybe she has misunderstood. She doesn’t get what a zombie is.
“Well, he came back to life, didn’t he?” She challenges.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t like he was all scary. He was nice.”
“But he was dead, right?”
“Yeah…,” I confirm.
“Well, where was he?”
“When?” I am confused now. My eight-year-old has confused me.
“When he was dead.”
“Oh, some people say he descended into Hell, but mommy doesn’t…”
“He came back to life after being in Hell?” She looks at me squarely, one eyebrow raised.
“That’s the story,” I say, realizing the teen years are going to be no picnic.
“I believe it. But, Jesus was a zombie.”
I stare at her. Blink a few times.
“Just…don’t say that in front your grandparents,” I mutter, exiting the room in the same direction from which I had come. I make a mental note to tell her about the symbolism of communion and why we drink Jesus’s blood for another day. Yeesh.
Thing is, as much as she had silenced me, I had to admit, I was impressed. I mean, she was thinking outside the box, right?
I love Easter. I love the idea of renewal and rebirth. I love the idea of God wanting to relate to humanity so much that He sent His son to earth to let us know we are loved. It’s all beautiful. I struggle with it daily, but it’s absolutely, undeniably beautiful. But my oldest daughter had hit on something I had never really thought of before. I’d certainly never had made that connection.
Jesus. A nice zombie.
My biggest issue with Easter before her innocent little observation had always been that before Jesus, there was no mention of Hell in the Bible.
You know, Hell? The Hot Place? Permanent separation from God? The Land Down Under filled with Thunder? Where red dudes with sawed off horns poke at you with sticks, ensuring things like eternal torment and incessant tooth gnashing?
Sure, there is “Sheol” in the Old Testament, but practically everyone knows that just means “the grave”.
In the New Testament, “Hell” is mentioned 12-14 times, depending on which version you’re holding. But look at the original words “Hell” was translated from, and it’s not so clear that’s what he was talking about.
For example, Jesus reportedly talked about “Hades”, the Greek version of Sheol. But again, everyone went there. It was for both the good guys and the bad guys.
The biblical accounts also say Jesus talked about “Gehenna”, another word translated into “Hell” in modern English translations. For example, Jesus spoke of it as being better to cut off your hand if it does something wrong rather than to have all of you thrown into the fires of “Hell” (“Hell” translated from the Arabic word “Gehenna”).
Gehenna, you may know, is a former trash dump on the edge of Jerusalem that used to have fire incinerators going at all times to dispose of trash, animal waste, and the bodies of criminals. Today, it’s a beautiful park. My parents have been there. To Hell. They rode an airplane home.
There’s the Lake of Fire in the Book of Revelation. I am reassured by reading several theologians on the topic that this is also not Hell.
I mean, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe I just don’t understand. Maybe there is evidence outside of the 12-14 mentions of the mistranslated English word “Hell” in the New Testament that point to eternal suffering in a place we refer to as Hell. I’ll allow that. A theologian, I am not. But surely we can at least agree that there was no Hell—as in a place of eternal suffering and separation from God—mentioned in the Old Testament. Abraham had never heard of Hell. David had never heard of Hell. King Solomon had never heard of Hell. Hell, Jesus’ own mother had never heard of Hell.
According to evangelical doctrine, acceptance of Jesus’s grace results in the avoidance of Hell. And if Jesus came so that people could believe in Him in order to avoid Hell–and doctrinally speaking, there was no Hell before his arrival–then for the evangelical, it would seem that Easter should mark the founding of Hell.
Let’s just hope that Hallmark doesn’t get wind of this.
Or my daughter, for that matter.