When I was growing up, Easter was a big deal. Even if you didn’t believe in Jesus, the holiday still brought plenty of good news. Though public schools didn’t technically celebrate religious holidays, Spring break and warm weather usually came during the Holy Week. Even the poorest kids in my neighborhood came back to school with fresh haircuts, new sneakers, and a sense that the school year was finally coming to an end.
And then there was Easter Sunday.
Sundays have always been important to Black people. Sunday was the only day that slaves were given a break from their unpaid labor to praise God and openly dream of deliverance. Sunday was the only day that shines became pastors, maids became deaconesses, “boys” and “aunties” became “Mr.” and “Mrs.” But Easter Sunday took things to another level. Men and boys rocking pastel colored suits, little girls wearing shiny shoes and white gloves, and church mothers with huge ornate hats proved that White supremacy had not stolen our joy or stripped our style. Easter Sunday was a sartorial testimony to the beauty and power of Black culture.
For Christians, however, Easter is not just about cultural expression. Easter commemorates the most extraordinary and sacred events in human history. While I do not believe in the story of Easter as a historical event, I nonetheless find resonance, power, and possibility in its message.
Easter calls us to remember the plight of the prisoner. Because of his political activism and message of social justice, Jesus was declared an enemy of the Roman State and sentenced to the death penalty. His crucifixion was a State execution that was both “cruel” and “unusual.” His most important followers, Peter and Paul, were prisoners who died in custody. The story of Jesus is a reminder to challenge state authority, question unjust laws, and offer humanizing mercy to the prisoner.
The holiday is a testimony to the power of actionable love. Most of us confess love for someone or something: our partners, our friends, our families, our community. But the story of Easter is a reminder that this love is best actualized through the choices we make and the sacrifices we offer. Love of the poor should translate into humane public policy. Love of the Black community should be reflected in investment, both by the State and other Black people. Love of women should lead to the elimination of rape culture. Love must become a verb.
Easter forces us to reconceptualize death. In literal terms, it is a reminder that the human condition is one that demands an encounter with death. Rather than fearing or stigmatizing those who are dying --in truth, all of us are dying-- we should seek to find ideas, causes, and people worth living (and, perhaps, dying) for. As the crucifixion was a necessary pre-condition for the resurrection, Easter also prompts us to consider the things in our lives that have to “die” for us to live newer, more fulfilling lives. After confronting each other and ourselves with mercy and love, we can find the strength to “kill” the bad choices, unhealthy relationships, and dangerous structures that undermine our individual and collective happiness.
Finally, Easter is also a reminder of the power of redemption. The Resurrection is a reminder that nothing, even death, forecloses on the possibilities of life. It is a reminder that God, however we imagine her, is not finished with life or with us. We all deserve mercy. We all deserve forgiveness. We all deserve second chances. We do not have to be prisoner to statistics, predictions, or past events. Regardless of our circumstances or conditions, we can change. We can grow. We can heal. We can rise again. We can win.
Marc Lamont Hill is host of BET News and HuffPost Live and Executive Producer of For Colored Boys: Redemption.