Churches must respond, as the meaning of Easter becomes less about the Passion and more about the pageantry.

Easter. Again.

Many of us probably are thinking about where to go for that big Easter lunch, or maybe brunch if church isn’t part of the equation. Young families prepare their Easter baskets. The whole la-dee-da is about to roll out once more.

The institution of Easter. Over time, this week has turned into another occasion for greeting cards, shopping sprees and dining extravaganzas.

I participate in this pageant, for the record. And some of it, in its own right, is a good time. I like seeing the gleam in my children’s eyes when they find a hidden Easter egg. A picture on my desk shows them with baskets in one hand, eggs in the other.

But how that part squares with the drama and even violence of the biblical message being observed this week beats me. This is a pageant largely about rejection, death, rebuke and division – not exactly what you associate with a bunny, a basket and brunch.

In fact, going back to the tomb, this is a week built upon great fear. Imagine discovering, as Mary and the disciples did, that The One they had been following had suddenly vanished from the spot he was buried. That would give me the creeps, and it did them.

But they persisted, despite their fears, which is why this message still reverberates. Jesus’ followers didn’t have all their problems solved, as those televangelists promise today. Heck, they encountered new ones, but they stepped forward in faith, just as millions of Christians will try to do after the last Easter hymn is sung.

Back then, Christ’s followers risked being hung on crosses for their willingness to follow him. The truth is, I’ve never come to terms with the Bible’s violence. Never mind the Old Testament floods and the like. The New Testament has its own share.

Christians, for example, will hear again this week how Jesus stormed into the Temple and drove out the moneychangers. They also will hear about the curtain in the Temple being torn asunder. And, of course, there is the cross itself. This story does not add up to a warm-and-fuzzy send-off to Easter lunch.

And we churchgoers should think about ourselves as we hear that message. So much of Jesus’ focus was on the religious elites, and at the heart of Holy Week is Jesus’ attack on the religious institutions of his day.

Gulp. I like my Presbyterian church. I like sitting in the quiet of our chapel and listening to the sermons and hymns. I like seeing people hustling through the hallways between services. I like taking the kids to choir on Sunday afternoons.

But we are an institution. Our church has been around for 150 years. Are we today’s proud Pharisees? I don’t think of us that way, but Easter should get churches thinking about their roles as institutions.

That’s hard for me because I like institutions. They create stability. We need them to develop our economy, raise our children and enjoy a peaceful life.

In my 20s, I didn’t always see it that way. Institutions seemed to retard progress, discriminate against people and practice collusion.

All true. But now, in my 50s, I don’t want to see London’s street protesters bringing down the G-20 or the world’s banks. Could you imagine the chaos?

But chaos is what happened in Jesus’ day. He upended much more than the things those street protesters were targeting last week in London. He took on institutions that had become their own gods.

Which makes me wonder: Have we Christians allowed Easter the institution to override the Easter message?

It’s worth thinking about as we hide the eggs, buy the bonnets and carve the ham.

William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. E-mail: [email protected]

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