The Story Behind “Easter Is Coming”

Two quick words of introduction and explanation: First, I realize this video is about Easter and we’re not yet there. But so many people have reported enjoyed seeing and sharing this video that I thought I’d make it available a few days early. Second, a number of folks have asked me where the idea for Easter is Coming came from, including most recently a colleague who is teaching a course on media, culture, and the gospel. So I decided to share what led up to a very fun, and now widely seen, endeavor. I hope it enriches your preparation for, and celebration of, the resurrection of our Lord.

The Origins of Easter is Coming

The story behind the Easter is Coming is rather simple and, at least for me, instructive. You see, I believe that creativity is essentially combinatorial. That’s a fancy word I picked up from Maria Popova – the genius behind one of my favorite websites: Brain Pickings. Essentially it means that creativity is not an isolated or individual process but rather comes about when ideas bump and collide with each other. To put it another way, there are no original ideas, only ideas that are adopted, adapted, stretched, combined with other ideas, and the like. And through this process new ideas appear.

In the case of Easter is Coming, I’d stumbled upon a YouTube video called “Lost Generation” and was both moved by it as well as captivated by its creative presentation, offering a narrative that, when you read the discreet phrases that made it up backwards, now offered an equally sensible but entirely opposite meaning from when you read it forward. Sometimes this kind of technique is called a palindrome, a word or phrase (or number) that can be read forward or backward. But that’s not quite right, as this isn’t a single word or number but rather sets of phrases that combine into sentences and produce a short narrative. So I’m not sure what to call this.

In any event, the technique fascinated me and I thought the author/poet/creator was incredibly creative. Interestingly, and to prove the earlier point about not equating creativity with originality, he borrowed and adapted his idea from an earlier political commercial for Lopez Murphy when he was running for president of Argentina (in 2006, I think). That video, called “The Truth,” is still on YouTube.

So all this was Saturday morning, the day before Palm Sunday in 2010. That afternoon, as is the case most Saturday afternoons, I was taking my daughter to a horseback riding lesson in Hugo, about 30 minutes from our home. So on the drive up and back, in between chatting with Katie, and while watching her lesson, I kept wondering if I could do that and how. I’d been recently working with Luke’s story of the resurrection which, like the other three, is quite candid about the absolute disbelief of those closest to Jesus when they first hear word of the resurrection. Luke’s draws that element out with his description of the disciples’ treating the story the women tell of the empty tomb as “an idle tale.” The Greek word for that is leros, the root of our word delirious, which means that the disciples essentially thought the women were out of their freakin’ minds.

The next day, the afternoon of Palm Sunday, I started playing around with how to capture that sense of the incredible nature of the resurrection and how everything seems kind of ludicrous about the Christian claim of resurrection and forgiveness until you believe it, and that shift in perspective changes everything. So with that in mind, and with the palidrome-like form of Lost Generation and The Truth as an inspiration, I just started playing around with phrases and sentences until I’d worked something out. It took the better part of the afternoon but wasn’t quite as hard as I thought. (You essentially get used to thinking in phrases and how to place the negative and positive affirmations between various neutral assertions.) Sunday night I started fiddling with some animation on iMovie and brought the script and rudimentary animation to Ben Cieslik, a December-grad from Luther who was working with us in the Center for Biblical Preaching while waiting for a call. He – notice, again, the theme of collaboration in creativity J – is way, way more competent in film, video, and animation than I will ever be. He took it and played around with different ways to present the text. Mine had essentially mimicked the scrolling text of Lost Generation and The Truth, whereas Ben thought of constructing and deconstructing a paragraph. More interesting and more original. We then tinkered with that arrangement together until we’d figured out the fading in and out, etc. and then gave thought to the narration.

I knew I didn’t really want to read it and I was pretty sure I wanted a female narrator. (I don’t know why, maybe inspired by Lost Generation.) So on Tuesday, when we had a rough cut of the video, we asked Karoline Lewis – who I think has a great voice for this kind of thing – to join us. Just to experiment, we each read and recorded a version, we recorded one where we read alternate lines, and we read one where one of us read the first half and the other read the second. But the one with Karoline alone was by far the best, so that was an easy choice. Then Ben and I scoured the free-online music scene and came up with two background songs. Ben put it all together – which I just described in half a sentence but was an incredible amount of work – and posted it on Thursday – Maundy Thursday, as it turned out. We mentioned it on Working Preacher, but other wise word spread via Facebook, etc., and folks started picking it up. All very fun.

Notes: 1) If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to click here to watch the video.
2) A number of folks ask whether they can show this in worship. The short answer: absolutely! :)