Does our response to Easter reflect poorly on us? There’s not a simple answer. Easter is simply a more challenging subject than Christmas; in that sense, it’s only to be expected. It could also be that there’s some amount of modern unease with enthusiastically declaring you think somebody, historically, did really come back from the dead—that, while Christians still live in expectation, they believe some of their expectations have already been fulfilled in history. Christianity is more easily lived as a sort of everlasting Ingmar Bergman film: better to expect and expect and never have to deal with the realization of expectation—to enjoy, even prioritize, uncertainty, doubt, and anguish.
Another reason, I suspect: Christianity, or at least American Christianity, has a difficult relationship with joy. (Though given that the most recent papal exhortation is called “rejoice and be glad,” perhaps it’s a global problem.) For those American Christians whose faith has been shaped—inevitably—by a reaction to the various feel-good Christianities that abound, the safest thing to do is simply to avoid any occasion of happiness. Focusing on anything other than the cross feels like cheap grace, a concession to the facile optimism all around us. We don’t deserve Easter, the general upbeat nature of the culture makes it impossible to celebrate properly anyway, and as soon as is humanly possible we should retreat back into the shadows.
It would certainly be foolish to claim that American culture is overly penitential, or that we aren’t ridden with cheap grace. But all grace, by definition, is undeserved; that applies no less to the brooding intellectual than it does to the flagrantly wicked. And what distinguishes cheap grace from grace isn’t the extremity of our penance or devotion to suffering (read: brooding), but recognition of sin and a contrite heart—not, precisely, the same thing. Avoiding cheap grace may mean avoiding grace altogether.
Read it all.