On Holy Saturday, United Methodist churches in our area distributed hams, some 185 of them, along with rice and corn, green beans and fruit, cranberries, cake mix and icing—bags of Easter joy for needy families in our area. But as I helped with the planning for this event these last few weeks, I got to thinking: why ham? Why is ham is the traditional dinner-meat of Easter?
Not turkey, which is our default setting for holidays, nor beef or even fish—though fish would make sense, really, since the first symbol of and for the church was not the cross but a fish—but ham.
Turns out there is in fact a reason for it—a theological reason for it: Resurrection! Jesus raised from the dead!
Resurrection is the explosion of God’s light into human darkness, the beachhead of God’s relentless onslaught against the dug-in principalities, the heavily armed and fortified powers of our death-loving, death-dealing culture: so fallen, so fascinated by, so saturated with death.
But Resurrection is the grave-emptying eruption of God’s life, God’s unmerited grace, rolling over all the Enemy’s tiger teeth, all the tombstones of law and futility.
Resurrection is the cataclysmic detonation of God’s unrestricted benevolence! By the resurrection of Jesus we have been unbound, set free, liberated.
And a part of what we have been liberated from is the old dietary codes: in other words, by grace alone we can eat pork!
Christ is risen! Pass the bacon and sausage!
The Lord is risen indeed! Eat some Easter ham!
I don’t know, though. Ham does not have quite the same cachet as turkey, nor Easter the same build-up (or let-down!) as Christmas—which leads Will Willimon to ask why Easter is not as big a deal, celebration-wise, as Christmas. He goes on to answer his question: we have all of us experienced, know how to celebrate—even comidify—birth. But Resurrection is harder, way harder. Only one, as of yet, has experienced resurrection. And there is no way to sell it. Besides, if birth is blessing, Resurrection too is blessing, but only after it is also judgment. Easter is God’s YES! to be sure, but it is also God’s NO! to the ways we typically think, act, bow to empire, impose our wills, live day to day, and do business. It thus calls us to see, to act, to trust in something outside our narrow experiences.
A lot of Christians don’t sing with much gusto on Resurrection Sunday—as if maybe they don’t much believe it, or at least not in a way to change much day-to-day, not really. We may be glad the church preaches the Resurrection, if it does, but most of us think more in terms of rebirth, Spring, the circle of life, or something. Resurrection does not square with the way we understand or live our lives, the ways we understand or die our deaths.
Shocking as it is, though, its very weirdness is commendation. As Dorothy Sayers said:
It is the dogma (that is, our preaching) that is the drama—not beautiful phrases, not comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and moral uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death—but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but they may realize that here is something that one might be glad to believe.
Author Tom Steagald is working on a new book about prayer for Upper Room Books. Each Wednesday he shares some of his thoughts as the book takes shape. He welcomes your comments.