We were driving home from school during Holy Week last year when I put the question before my then four-year-old son. “Do you know what happens this weekend?,” I had asked him- and I’d be lying to say I had no expectation about how he would respond. Surely, I had figured, all those bedtime Bible stories, weeks of Sunday school as a “Lion” in “Noah’s Ark” and a mommy who worked as a pastor would have rubbed off in an answer that betrayed at least a primitive understanding of the event called “Easter” on the church’s calendar. That, after all, was the day that Christians around the world entered into a whole season of celebration around the resurrection of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
My son’s answer had therefore elicited surprise: not “Easter,” not even “the Easter bunny”- at the time his response had seemed more heretical than even this. “Earth Day,” he had said almost matter-of-factly. He was referring of course to the day that now annually draws global attention to environmental issues like global warming. What first began as a national teaching moment on the environment, having been founded by the U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson some forty years ago has now been officially designated April 22 by the United Nations as “International Mother Earth Day” and belongs to a full week of related activities. My son had spent the whole morning with classmates planting seeds in take-home biodegradable pots as a way to mark the occasion.
Earth Day? This environmentally sympathetic but dolefully uneducated mommy was admittedly taken back. Sure, we regularly recycled, and our sympathy had extended to buying energy efficient light bulbs and free range meat at the grocery store. In addition to occasional contributions to The Sierra Club and some new energy-efficient windows, we had even tried a compost pile in our backyard until a local possum made it his noisy perch in the middle of the night to the frustration of neighbors. But if truth be told, I was still chafing a bit at the strict enforcement of the ban on plastic sandwich bags and paper napkins at my son’s school, and “Earth Day” in my ignorance had seemed a bit more like the pagan alternative to Easter for anyone seeking a more “loosey goosey,” pantheistic spirituality than what the Bible offered.
Earth Day. “Say, what?,” I had said at the time, laughing a bit at the scandal of it and then proceeding with the explanation that the most important event taking place this weekend was in fact Easter, when we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead after dying on a cross. In a few days, I had insisted, we would be celebrating Easter.
But what I failed to appreciate at the time was the undeniable and inextricable connection between Easter and Earth Day. When we as Christians celebrate these (traditionally) forty days of Easter, we marvel at the way that Jesus, having embraced the whole world and all creation, His arms extended on a cross, gives Himself away in death only to be resurrected and to invite us to participate in that new, unending life. No greater affirmation of our humanity and the earth we have been charged to care for can be found than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this one great marvelous act of God, God says “yes” to the broken, frail, limited stuff of our earthly existence; God weds God’s Self to us and to the earth God loved into existence, with the result being that the inevitable decay of our own bodies, the disruption of fragile ecosystems and all of the ways that “the whole creation groans and travails…waiting for redemption,” (as the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans observes), find purpose, transformation and meaning in the hope of this new life. “See, I am making all things new,” the resurrected Jesus says (Revelation 21). All things. New.
That, I suspect, is the message of the Bible in a nutshell. Since the very beginning, when God instructed the man and the woman to tend the garden and take care of the animals, human beings and the earth have been locked in a fateful embrace of sorts. Adam and Eve’s first sin was to pick fruit from a forbidden tree; they then used fig leaves to hide from their Creator. When Cain murdered his brother Abel, Abel’s blood “cried out” from the ground- maybe not unlike the stones that will themselves later cry out that Jesus is the Son of God in the face of human beings’ silence. God’s judgment of Pharaoh manifests itself in droughts and plagues and God’s provision for the people of Israel in food that falls from the sky and rocks that overflow with water. Sin and the possibility of forgiveness are therefore interwoven into the very fabric of creation. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land,” the God of the Old Testament promises (2 Chronicles 7:14).
And is not Earth Day, which we will again celebrate in two days’ time, in essence, this very thing? Humility in the face of the grandeur, beauty and mystery of the earth. A turning from the ways in which we deface and pillage our fragile ecosystems. An act of contrition and a seeking of forgiveness- if not explicitly from God, then at least from one another- for our failure to remember the delicate interconnectedness of all created things and our necessary unity in “creatureliness.” A prayer for the healing of our world? In a way, yes. So it seems fitting this second week of Easter to wish you a very, very happy Earth Day.
For some tips on being green, watch this video compliments of “The Psychotic Earth Day Spokesman”: