The Easter Vigil, held tonight, is one of my favorite services of the church year. At my church, we gather outside, bless a new Paschal Candle, offer prayers for those who will be baptized, and proceed into the darkened sanctuary. The smell of lilies, the holding of the candle before the darkened altar, the lengthy Scripture readings. But my favorite part is when catechumens are baptized and others are confirmed or transferred into membership. This weekend we get religion reporters' Easter stories. They're always trying to get some new angle on this ancient holiday. Which is how we get all those wonderful "Scholars Cast Doubt on Resurrection" type stories. I thought I'd look at two of the Easter stories that have come out thus far.
The first, from the Dallas Morning News, is about the Easter Vigil as practiced by the Diocese of Dallas:
Matthew Parks was born Protestant and raised in an Assemblies of God church near Houston. By midnight tonight the 28-year-old will be Catholic.
As Catholics around the world celebrate Easter Vigil, the start of the church's traditional celebration of the risen Christ, the Diocese of Dallas will usher in 2,196 people, among whom will be 585 converts receiving baptism, Holy Communion and confirmation.
The remaining, those already baptized Christians, will receive Communion. The Dallas numbers are among the highest in the country for the Easter season, according to figures released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
What a great local angle for an Easter story. Reporter Jean Nash Johnson speaks with some of the converts and puts their story in the context of the recent Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. She tells the story of Guy Hollis, a Dallas irrigation specialist who used to accompany his wife to Sunday Mass and became interested in her faith. He and their two children will be joining the parish in Garland:
"Being of the same faith and belief system is a plus to raising a good family," he said. "We can now pass our morals on to the children together."
When Mr. Hollis, 42, began his initiation process, Mrs. Hollis became his sponsor. Her participation made the experience richer, he said, and it was a nice way for her to gain a refresher on the religion she was born into, he said.
"We hear from sponsors all the time about how they come out of the process appreciating and loving their Catholic faith in a much deeper way," said Lucas Pollice, Fort Worth Diocese director of Catechesis.
John Christensen of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution filed a report headlined "Finding a deeper meaning in Easter." His reporting showed that the deeper meaning is . . . good works. So whereas the Dallas Morning News story is all about sacraments, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution highlights personal piety:
Tom Murphy discovered the true meaning of Easter not on his knees at St. Ann Catholic Church in Marietta where he worships, but in a Stone Age village called El Mico in north central Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. . . .
"For the first time, I actually realized the meaning of Easter and some of the other things I was brought up with in the church," says Murphy. "The takeaway is that it cleanses your mind to the point that your spirit is open and you're truly aligned with the purpose of the Lenten period, which is to get closer to Christ in deeds and words."
While Murphy went to great lengths for his awakening, he is no different from many other Atlanta Christians when it comes to the seriousness with which they regard Easter.
While I won't quote them all, I appreciated the wide variety of people Christensen spoke with. Still, it seemed like it really could have been a story about Christians at any point in the year. It's not like trips to the Honduras occur only in March. Easter commemorates, of course, the resurrection of Christ. A story about Easter should make that it's central focus. Instead, the article lacked any focus, as this excerpt demonstrates:
The Rev. Susan Allen Grady, senior minister at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Grant Park, says Easter is particularly meaningful now when people are oppressed by hard times and bad news and, for some, it seems that the American dream has turned into a nightmare.
"So the meaning of Easter is to say that there are elements beyond our control, but that faith can renew hope in a way that economics and homeownership and job stability never can," Grady says. "That spiritual hope can lift our lives and sustain us, that God is able to make things better, although maybe not in the time frame we prefer."
Barbara Kennedy grew up a Methodist in Mississippi but now attends the evangelical Church of the Apostles in Buckhead. "Easter has way more meaning for me now," she says. "I understand the price that Christ paid to atone for the sins of those who would believe in him. ... I see it as Jesus conquering death; he lives. When I was younger, I understood the historical fact, but I didn't understand the complete meaning."
While that first paragraph is cringe-inducing, what do those two quotes have to do with each other? That they both had a Methodist connection? Those three paragraphs comprised the entire section with the subhead 'Spiritual hope'. And yet what they are saying couldn't be more different.
If you're going to write a story claiming that the point of Easter -- the day on which Christians celebrate Christ's resurrection and triumph over death -- is other people doing good works, that story better be very tightly written and well argued. I'm not saying that different denominations don't emphasize different things about Christ's resurrection, but treating Easter as a Rorschach test for the people you interview might not be the best way to handle Christian's highest holy day.