In 1970, in the midst of the Vietnam War, when V-8 engines ruled, gas mileage was low, industrial pollution hovered over most American cities, the first Earth Day swept across the nation. United States Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the day as a teach-in, organized locally across the country, to focus on ecological needs. It must have struck a chord: twenty million people joined in.
By the end of that year, the Environmental Protection Agency was created and the Clean Air Act was passed. Two years later, the Clean Water Act came into being.
Now Earth Day is celebrated in 192 countries worldwide. According to Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, Earth Day is “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.”
But why should it be a secular holiday only? Why shouldn’t it take its place on every church calendar?
After all, it’s God’s creation that Earth Day celebrates. And Easter, which this year precedes Earth Day by two days, is all about new life. Resurrection life. Why pit the two against each other; why ignore one for the other?
When we commemorate Passion Sunday and Good Friday, we remember not only Jesus’ suffering, but the suffering of all on earth, including creation itself, which, as Paul described it, “has been groaning in labor pains until now” (Romans 8:22).
When we celebrate Easter Sunday, we not only celebrate Christ’s resurrection, but anticipate God’s redemption for the whole world. What if our Easter celebration were part of that redemption, a commitment to nourishing life on this planet?
In the northern hemisphere, Easter also marks the rise of spring — new life for a new season on earth. It’s been commercialized with stuffed bunnies, fake eggs, dyed chicks, and plastic grass. But what would an Easter look like that intertwined celebration of Jesus’ resurrection with celebration of the renewal of plant and animal life on earth? How do the budding trees and the greening grass remind us of hope? What does the smell of thawing ground and the sound of spring rain do for our trust in divine faithfulness year after year?
And, given the ecological challenges we are facing, what can the reminder of the unexpected miracle of Jesus’ resurrection do for our hope now, when we need another Easter Day miracle?
As usual especially during high seasons, ecological themes in April’s lectionary readings are subtle and sometimes elusive. But a commitment to remember the Earth every week will help preachers find much to point out.
- Ezekiel 37:1-14 offers hope of resurrection for a dying community through one who prophesies new life.
- Psalm 130 presents a long view of the future and forgiveness for past mistakes.
- Romans 8:6-11 can easily be misunderstood as discounting earthly life, severing the human spirit from bodily existence. But Romans 8 goes on to say that creation itself awaits redemption.
- John 11:1-45 describes Jesus as a savior who brings new life.
- Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (Liturgy of the Palms) uses elements of the natural world—stones and tree branches—to help describe rejoicing.
- Matthew 21:1-11 (Liturgy of the Palms) relates Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem.
- Isaiah 50:4-9a (Liturgy of the Passion) describes the prophetic vocation as one in which the prophet listens to God each morning, and courageously teaches despite opposition.
- Psalm 31:9-16 (Liturgy of the Passion) prays for rescue from scornful enemies, and expresses trust in God.
- Philippians 2:5-11 (Liturgy of the Passion) describes the humility and self-emptying work of Christ.
- Matthew 26:14-27:66 (Liturgy of the Passion) brings a common meal, common foods of wine and bread, a garden, and a farmyard rooster into the story of Jesus’ passion.
- Matthew 27:11-54 (Liturgy of the Passion alternate) binds human sin to responses in the natural world by describing an earthquake occurring as Jesus wrongfully died.
Easter Sunday, April 20
- Acts 10:34-43 tells how Peter began to accept, and to preach, a more inclusive, worldwide gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Jeremiah 31:1-6 (alternate) uses the resumption of planting and harvest as signs of a rebuilt, healthy, and prosperous community.
- Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 celebrates God’s steadfast love for all.
- Colossians 3:1-4, with its exhortation to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” challenges us to distinguish between God’s good creation and the sinful order Paul often identifies as “earthly.” This passage exhorts godliness, not rejection of God’s creation.
- John 20:1-18 relates the disciples’ discovery of Jesus’ resurrection at the garden tomb. Mary was more right than she may have known when she supposed Jesus to be the gardener. Creation comes full circle in God’s new creation.
- Matthew 28:1-10 (alternate) announces Jesus’ resurrection with an earthquake.
- Acts 2:14a, 22-32 relates God’s reversal, in Jesus’ resurrection, of evil human deeds.
- Psalm 16 rejoices in divine protection, expressed as “boundary lines in pleasant places” and “a goodly heritage.”
- 1 Peter 1:3-9 counsels patience through various trials that refine believers as gold is refined.
- John 20:19-31 offers hope and peace in the midst of doubt.