I have never liked the term “Easter” for the Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter refers to the pagan goddess, “Ishtar.” This is where we get Easter bunnies and eggs: symbols of fertility and new life in Spring. Celebrating “Easter” is celebrating “the circle of life,” of rebirth after winter. It’s the original Earth Day.
Now, I have nothing against celebrating Earth Day. I am a big environmentalist and a proponent of Western Christianity recovering its ecological roots. Properly understood, Christianity is far more ecologically radical than Wicca or other “earth religions.” This has been disguised because of Western Christianity’s captivity to the Powers of Empire and Consumerism.
But Resurrection Sunday isn’t about any of that. I BARELY tolerate “Santa.” I have no tolerance for Easter Bunnie intrusions into the celebration, not of rebirth after winter, but of LIFE AFTER DEATH. Jesus was DEAD (not swooned on the cross) and God RAISED HIM UP.
I believe in the BODILY resurrection of Jesus–more than just a physical resuscitation, but not LESS THAN that–nothing ridiculous like a “spiritual resurrection.” [On advice from a friendly critic, I am removing the judgmental language. But Christianity grew out of Judaism and in that context “spiritual resurrection” was a contradiction in terms. No First Century Jew would have used the term “resurrection” for anything non-somatic. “Spiritual resurrection” is a belief that grows out of Western post-Enlightenment skepticism, building on the Greek body-soul dualism imported into early Christianity from Hellenistic philosophy.] I don’t believe that souls exist apart from bodies (Greek rather than biblical anthropology), nor anything stupid Gnostic like “the immortality of the soul.” ONLY GOD is immortal. The Christian hope is for resurrection. And our hope, as Paul says in I Co. 15, is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus.
Resurrection Sunday means that we worship a Risen, Living Savior. It means that empires of death do not have the last word. It means that God VINDICATES Jesus’ nonviolent way. Rome, the temple elites of 1st C. Judaism, and all the Powers of Death only THOUGHT they were victorious in crucifying Jesus. They failed. The cross reveals the violence of the system, of all of us, but strips it naked of any victory because of the empty tomb and the proclamation, “He is not here; He is risen!”
This is the power behind all Christian movements for justice or liberation. As Gustavo Gutierrez replied to a liberal theologian from the U.S. trying to water down his robust theology, “In Latin America, we need a God who can raise Jesus from the dead.”
I admit that it is easier to joyfully sing resurrection songs on some days than others. We live in a world where “what’d dead stays that way.” We live in a world where evil, and cynicism, and corruption, and greed triumph. Where peace efforts are shattered by those who profit from war. Where the marginalized are silenced. Where women and children are violently exploited. Where the creation itself is raped and plundered for the almighty dollar. Where political leaders waffle, or backtrack, or weasel,–or betray. Where loved ones betray us with a kiss.
But that is also the biblical world. That is also the destructive, numbing, faith-destroying, virtue-corrupting world that the first Christians knew. In such a world, against all expectation, God said NO to all that. And more. God, in raising Jesus Christ the Son, said YES to life, peace, salvation, love! God’s unarmed, nonviolent, unilateral initiative in Jesus, disarms us and liberates us from chains of sin and oppression for lives of free service to God and others.
In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
“Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than Darkness; Life is stronger than Death!”
The tomb is empty. He is not there. God has raised him from the dead. He goes before us to the Galilee and we disciples, we faithless deserters and betrayers, can meet him there to renew our discipleship in transformed lives for the healing of the world. Amen.
I heard this story from a Russian Christian shortly after the break-up of the USSR. In the early days after the Communist Revolution, the program of Soviet “re-education” included mandatory attendance at lectures promoting atheism. The public square in Moscow was filled to capacity and the people stayed mute as one of these “re-educators” droned on for over an hour on why religion was the opiate of the masses and why all defenders of the glorious revolution must embrace atheism for the good of society and justice, blah, blah, blah. When he finally wound down, the story goes, this Party official “graciously” invited the Russian Orthodox bishop to say something in response. He walked to the podium and said simply, “Christ is Risen!” The crowd, which had stayed absolutely silent so far, thundered in response, “Christ is risen indeed!”
That kind of powerful resurrection affirmation in the face of oppression can be found today, too. Here is one example. In the face of the Resurrection of the Crucified One, all empires, all Powers and Authorities, tremble. Their doom is nigh. ‘Nuff said.