Have you heard this one?
Three young seminary students died together in a car accident. At the Pearly Gates St. Peter met them and said, "We have a rule that no one gets into heaven without correctly answering one question. For you three it will simple, but I'm obliged to ask it anyway." So he called the first one forward and asked, "What's the meaning of Easter?"
"Easter," replied the young man, "is when you bring a tree into your house and decorate it, and put presents underneath and?" St. Peter shouted, "No, no! That's Christmas!" And he pushed him off in eternity's other direction.
He called the second seminarian forward and said, "I don't know what was wrong with that last guy, but I'm sure you know the answer to this question: What's the meaning of Easter?"
"That's easy!" replied the young man. "Easter is when you get all the family together, and you cook a turkey with all the trimmings, and have cranberry sauce and?" St. Peter shook his robes in anger. "That's Thanksgiving!" And he sent him packing too.
Finally he called the third student forward and said, "Those other two must have been remedial students, but I know you can answer this question: What's the meaning of Easter?"
The seminarian replied, "Well, you see, Jesus was nailed to a cross and he died." "Yes, yes," said St. Peter with a smile. "Go on."
"And they took him down and laid him in a tomb and rolled a stone in front of the entrance." "That's right, said St. Peter. "Keep going."
"But after three days he came to life again and walked out of the tomb." "Precisely!" St. Peter almost shouted.
"Yeah," said the student, "and if he sees his shadow there's going to be six more weeks of winter."
An old joke, but, perhaps, there's still a kernel of truth in it. For 2000 years people have been struggling with the meaning of Easter. Biblical scholars have attempted to piece together exactly what happened. Theologians have debated the significance of what happened. Scientists have tried to explain how it could have happened. And skeptics have scoffed that it couldn't possibly have happened.
In the final analysis, however, maybe the meaning of Easter isn't as important as the experience of Easter. Each time my life has walked through the valley of loss and come out new on the other side, I encounter the reality of Easter. Each time my life moves from darkness into light, I encounter the reality of Easter. Each time I feel reborn to hope, reborn to joy, reborn to gratitude, I encounter the reality of Easter.
In my youth our church used to sing a hymn whose chorus ended with these words:
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart!
Come Easter Sunday I will need no other evidence. I will need no other explanation. My life, for all intents and purposes, has ended on several occasions, but I'm still here with a song of praise on my lips.
That may not be the answer St. Peter is looking for, but that's the meaning of Easter for me.