Gaining everything by giving all

One of my favorite memories of our daughter, Emily, happened when she was 2 years old at an Easter egg hunt. As much as we tried to help her gather as many as she could, Emily just couldn’t get the hang of moving on to the next egg when there was a perfectly good piece of candy to be eaten in the one she just snatched up. She kept trying to sit down and simply eat what she had.

When all the eggs were picked up, we momentarily couldn’t find Emily. Where had she gone? We quickly found her around the side of the house, hiding in the bushes with her basket in her lap. Her face was covered in chocolate as she tried to eat as much as she could before being discovered.

On March 27, Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. But I’m struck by how odd and upside-down our Easter celebrations tend to be — chocolate bunnies, marshmallow Peeps, colorful baskets, new spring clothes. It’s a palatable and pastel-colored remembrance of some very weighty moments in the life of Christ, including betrayal, torture, an agonizing crucifixion and a final breath. Contrast that with the dazzling, light-filled, stone-rolled-away transformation a few days later and you’ll wonder how we ever got to Peter Cottontail.

We may dumb it down because we can’t bear the brilliance of it. We can’t imagine the agony. We can’t conjure an approximate image of life returning, eyes opening, the quickening of muscle and bones and blood. So we stick to a shallow, albeit fun and delicious, spring celebration.

The Bible doesn’t say how the disciple Peter died, but the lore surrounding Peter’s death is revealing. The story commonly is told as follows: Many years after Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter was in Rome. His arrest for preaching about Jesus’ death and resurrection was imminent, so arrangements were made for him to escape. It seemed the right thing to do. All the Christian community said that it was time to flee. As Peter left the city alone and incognito, he encountered a startling sight. Jesus was going the other way, back into the city.

“Where are you going?” Peter asked.

“To be crucified,” Jesus said.

“Are you going to be crucified again?” Peter asked.

“Yes, Peter, I am going to be crucified again.”

Peter turned around and made his way back into the city, knowing it was the right course of action. It would not end well. He was arrested, as expected, and as they prepared to execute him by crucifixion, he made one final, strange request. He didn’t feel worthy to be crucified right side up, as Jesus was, and instead asked to be crucified upside-down.

The appropriate way to remember his death and resurrection is to live as he lived, sharing in his suffering as well as his transformation. What his followers discover is that the two are actually one. When we serve others, we find ourselves. When we die, we live.

It’s upside-down, right?