Fewer people consider themselves 'very religious,' but faith leaders say message of Christ remains relevant and essential

This Sunday, April 20, marks Easter, the most important holiday in the Christian calendar since it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN ICON - For centuries, artists have depicted the risen Jesus Christ as the central figure of their faith.

According to Christians, after a show trial brought about by his enemies, Jesus was crucified, died on Good Friday and was buried in a tomb from which he rose three days later. This belief is central to the faith because Jesus proved he was more than just another martyred ethics teacher by resurrecting himself. He was God in the flesh, Christians believe.

For some people, this makes Easter a reverent day, filled with meditative joy over a divine man who died on a cross to redeem humanity from the sins that had cut us off from the creator.

For others, however, Easter has become primarily a children’s holiday, filled with egg hunts, baskets of candy and visits by the Easter Bunny.

Of course, plenty of Christians pay homage to God as well as the Easter Bunny — how many children grew up getting chocolate crucifixes on Easter Sunday?

For others, Easter doesn’t mean all that much, other than a Sunday off from work, or in the case of one man with whom The Gresham Outlook spoke, a chance to hunt for six-packs of beer hidden on his property.

Indeed, if a 2013 survey by the Oregon Values & Beliefs Project is any indication, a lot of folks in East Multnomah County probably don’t observe Easter as a Christian holiday. The survey says 44 percent of Gresham-area residents don’t consider themselves religious — a number not all that different from other metro area communities.

Meanwhile, 2 percent say they are “spiritual,” and 30 percent responded that they are “moderately religious.”

Only 23 percent — less than one-quarter — of area residents called themselves “very religious.”

And unlike Christmas, Easter doesn’t figure as much in the commercial world as do many other holidays. Sure, every grocery store stocks candy and other goodies, and some clothing stores boast new spring clothes folks might wear to church.

However, it’s clear that while Easter may be the most important Christian holiday, it’s far from the world’s. More people likely party on the Fourth of July than on Easter.

So what does Easter mean? Here’s what some area folks had to say.

The pastors

Despite their denominational differences, Gresham Christian churches pretty much agree on what Easter means and who Jesus was.

To greater or lesser degrees, they emphasize their belief Jesus was the creator of the universe in human form and that his death on a cross somehow repaired humanity’s severed relationship with that creator.

And they all seem to agree that Jesus basically existed to let everyone know God loves them.

“Jesus was God in the flesh who came to show us what God is like and to take the consequences of our sins upon himself,” says Pastor Keith Evans of Greater Gresham Baptist Church.

“Jesus’ life as God-with-skin-on invites us, people with bodies and dreams and messy emotions, to connect with God,” says the Rev. Jennifer Creswell of St. Luke the Physician Episcopal Church.

“Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully God and fully man,” says Father Charles E. Zach of St. Henry Catholic Church. “He came to transform the world’s hearts and to invite us into his kingdom.”

“Jesus Christ is our savior, healer, baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and our soon and coming king,” says Pastor Jason Albelo of East Hill Church.

It’s a little trickier, though, when you get into the whole subject of what exactly was the resurrection. Scientists have examined the Shroud of Turin — the reputed burial cloth of Jesus — for literal “proof” of a resurrection, yet some scholars contend the resurrection is a mythical tale which embodies pre-Christian ideas of god-kings dying and rising.

“I don’t fault people for doubting,” Albelo says. “Even the eyewitnesses doubted, originally.

“The apostle Paul who wrote most of the New Testament not only doubted but also persecuted and killed early Christ followers until he encountered the resurrected, risen Christ,” Albelo adds. “No one, not even the disciples, was expecting or even thinking about Jesus resurrecting, but he did.”

“Most Episcopalians understand the resurrection as a great mystery,” Creswell says. “We won’t say it didn’t happen, we won’t swear that it did. What is important is the truth of resurrection that we all experience in the world. God inhabits resurrection experiences deeply.”

Evans says his church believes the resurrection is the linchpin around which the story of Jesus rotates.

“Since Jesus claimed that he would die and rise again on the third day, if he didn’t do that then he was not trustworthy,” Evans says. “But since he did, it means he was not just a martyr who died for what he believed, he is a savior who overcame death so that we might personally have life abundantly and eternally.”

The best way for Christians to prove Jesus rose is by acting like he did, Father Zach says.

“It is important for ... the church to express God’s relentless love for the world, so we are to transform the world by our words and actions.”

Does any bunny care?

Often towering these days over the story of Christ’s resurrection is the Easter Bunny. Like Santa Claus, this mysterious yearly visitor often pushes Jesus aside from the minds of folks on Easter Sunday.

Evans plainly says the rabbit’s reach “doesn’t bother me that much.”

Albelo, however, is more pointed.

“Really all the hype and misdirected attention to eggs and Easter bunnies — who don’t lay eggs by the way — communicates that they are a part of a world/culture that has yet to experience the love, grace, acceptance and forgiveness of the resurrected person of King Jesus, the messiah,” he says.

Creswell says the bunny is benign.

“The Easter Bunny is fun, and Easter eggs are beautiful,” she says.

Father Zach sees a potential spiritual bounty in every Easter basket.

“I recall a coach friend of mine who was always good copy for the sports news, saying, ‘I don’t care what they say about me, as long as they mention my name.’ Perhaps the Lord is just happy that Easter has many symbols of life and activity. It’s a way to draw attention to the greater message of Easter.”

Main Avenue speaks

The Outlook also spoke to a few folks on Main Avenue in Historic Downtown Gresham. A few were reluctant to publicly talk about Easter, but Greg Scuka of Gresham, a bartender who grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church — which marks Easter on Saturday, not Sunday — says he doesn’t think many folks go to church on Easter JIM CLARK - Greg Scuka

“It doesn’t seem like there’s any religious observance,” he says.

He adds that he’s hosted Easter beer hunts on his property.

“Everyone gets a wheelbarrow and goes in the back 40 to hunt for beer cans,” he says with a smile.

The resurrection may or may not have happened, he adds.

Meanwhile, Dorene Russell of Rockwood says she plans to attend an Easter service at East Hill Church.

She believes Easter is a matter of “recognizing that Jesus rose from the grave and defeated death, which makes him significantly different from any other historical figure.”by: JIM CLARK - Dorene Russell

Her friend, Rockwood resident Tara Shell, says she observes a pre-Christian version of Easter, more akin to a pagan celebration.

“I usually have a private celebration in a sacred grove in a park,” she says, noting Easter’s roots in such stories as that of Ishtar, a Sumerian goddess hung on a stake who was resurrected and ascended from the underworld.

“I think of it as a rebirth, a new beginning,” she says, adding she’s just fine with Christians celebrating JIM CLARK - Tara Shell

“I tend to see things in a holistic perspective that embodies everything,” she says. “All of us are being reborn in some way and fairly often.”

Creswell, interestingly, somewhat echoes Shell’s take.

“We feel it’s important for people to name resurrection in their own lives, in terms that make sense to them,” the Episcopal priest says. “Why is there death, pain, suffering? Because it makes way for resurrection. Death is not the end of the story.”

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine