It is Easter, and today Christians all over the world are celebrating the event that defines them: the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. This event has put enormous stress on our accustomed and inherited ways of thinking and living. If you choose to turn and see the Resurrected Christ, coming up as the sun upon you, you will enter a way of unfiltered reality. The meaning of his Resurrection involves your very flesh and bones, and takes your soul in the trade, as well.
Christ’s Resurrection was not an idea, still less was it a mere psycho-social phenomenon of the time. The resurrected Christ has everything to do with our personal life, with the body and its destiny, and further, with quasars, clouds, and ever-expanding realms of time and space. When Christianity long ago moved with the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection further out into the ancient, pagan world, it became clear that Jesus’ Messianic identity was only the beginning. One ancient theologian achieved a breakthrough in expressing what the Resurrection meant. He said, “The God who creates is also the one who redeems.” That is, Jesus, risen from the dead, is not only a statement about the vindication of Israel and the capstone of a Covenant, he is the very condition for understanding the created order, in total. He is the very image or icon of the Creator God when that God decides to make his creation his own again.
In Jesus, risen from the dead, God the Father was revealing the end of the supposed contradiction between his power and his love. They are one and the same. Also, God can no longer be conceived of as a divine watchmaker who winds up the world, steps back and lets it run. And no one can possess any pathos, suffering, or compassion with which God is not fully acquainted. Any step, then, toward knowing the world or one’s place in it, toward knowing anything real or important, takes one over the threshold of the Resurrected Christ, who holds out his hand to lead us to his eternity, now and in the future. There is no undesignated space outside of this Resurrected One; to know him is to know the how, the why, and whither of all that is.
These are large claims. So large, in fact, that some traditions of thought attempt to pare down these claims to a manageable, “human” size—to a comfortable exercise of religious and philosophical speculation: Resurrection for the armchair intellectual. But this will not do; not when we open our eyes to the often horrible things around us, especially the tragedies in our own spheres of influence; not when we look back on the twentieth century, in which most of us were born, and see that the clever speculation of many persons concerning the ideal social and economic arrangement has led to the actual slaughter of tens of millions of people who somehow got in the way of the man-made Heaven on Earth. The Resurrected One stands over this mass insanity with a pure invitation: “Come to me, for I was once dead, slain upon a cross, and see, I live!” Nothing pleases God more than granting us a share in the Resurrection of Christ. Nothing is more perennially urgent for the world.
Many come to see what the Resurrection offers first in terms of their departed loved ones, and this is surely proper. No one who has ever truly loved someone else would hesitate for a moment to gain the eternal life of that one, if he possibly could. One knows now, through the Resurrection of Christ, that one need not dread the awful circumstance of losing a loved one forever. In fable and myth, one had to make a trip to the underworld and rescue a loved one from the silent world of the dead. Christ has not only made that vaunted trip for us, he holds the very keys to death and hell. And what is raised with him is truly raised, never to die again.
When you and I come face to face with the Resurrected One, perhaps for the first time, we see that he is not content to let us die; he is not content to let us perish from his view or anyone else’s. And we learn also that he is not content to let us perish in our own sin. This can be a hard lesson. Much of what we associate with punishment or some kind of ill will on God’s part is really the correction and reproof we need in order not to throw our lives away, or to live apart from the Redemption that makes us whole. It is not clear a lot of the time that we want eternal life—perhaps we wish anesthesia, or distractions, or just a massive amount of assurance that we are OK. Eternal life is surely better than what we want, and to develop a taste in us for eternal life is what God’s work in us is all about. Easter bids us look at our sufferings and testings to see if there is not perhaps a person standing in the midst of them, a Risen One, who says, “Living for yourself is worse than dying with me, for see I am alive! Throw off your burden and take my yoke upon you.”
I suppose that Easter exhausts the imagination of our hearts and that it will do so until the end of time. Just remember, wherever you go and whatever you do, that you were gathered with the Church of Almighty God on an Easter day when Christ’s Resurrection was proclaimed, when it became clear that the God who raised him did it not for the sake of conversation, speculation, or novelty, but for you—for all that you are or ever will be. And believe like the Psalmist that you will “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” in this world and in the world to come.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
-Dr. Ronald Thomas