“Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”
The above is a quote by the Apostle Paul when he is giving his defense before King Agrippa, as recorded in Acts 26. I recently finished this book of the Bible, which chronicles the events that took place shortly after Jesus’ ministry on Earth ended, and was struck mostly by how much of it is taken up by lengthy sermons given by Paul or Peter. And these sermons are, on the whole, very coolly logical. At least to the contemporaneous audience, the reasoning is perfectly sound: if there is an omnipotent God, it should be nothing out of the ordinary for God to reverse death, to undo the finality that has constrained humankind since its origin.
And the ultimate reversal of, as I’ll call it, the “old world order” is the resurrection of Jesus, which is what Christians commemorate on Easter. As credible as it may be for God to be able to raise the dead, this singular event still warrants our astonishment and delight, year after year. Why? This year, to be honest, I was wondering how Easter could possibly be any different, when I know the story so well already. But a short and sweet reflection written by my friend Celestina caught my eye. She writes,
“Today I am reminded of all the stories about an impossibly humble man who showed radical love, challenged the status quo and suffered despite his innocence… But I am also reminded of the Muslim, queer and trans folks (among others) who are also losing their lives despite their innocence, often in this man’s name. This year more than ever I have seen ‘Christians’ treat others with a cruelty and lack of understanding that would have been unrecognizable to Jesus. What is the message of Jesus, his life, his death if not one centered on practicing an all-encompassing compassion and actively disrupting an old order to make way for a radical new way of loving and living with one another? What does this day represent but a new beginning, a resurrection of our sense of responsibility to one another, a resounding hope to do better?”
It’s a thoroughly humanist take on the significance of Easter, but it still resonates with me, because I have been seeking all year for a way to make my faith and my religion relevant to the abolition of social injustices. I’m approaching it from the perspective that Christianity does have relevance, and even an answer, to the social ills of the world; the problem is that it’s so hard to see what that answer might be because the majority of Christians seem to think that they’re crusaders at war with a broken world rather than healers sent to restore it.
Here’s another bit of food for thought by Shane Claiborne:
“Holy Week is about a God who suffers with us — bleeds with us, cries with us, hopes with us. As we celebrate Holy Week, let’s connect the passion of Christ with the passion of the streets… God understands our pain. That is good theology for Good Friday. And that kind of theology only happens when we connect the Bible to the world we live in. It happens when worship an activism meet… Let’s get out of the sanctuaries and into the streets.”
This makes sense to me. It’s the link between my theology and my actions. I think that when I go out and protest against racist police violence, share pro-gay marriage messages on Facebook, or support liberal or leftist activism, people tend to think that I’m shoehorning my religion into my rigid box of radical social opinion. But it’s really the opposite, or at least it should be: Jesus himself was the one who completely obliterated our old ways of conceiving the world, what was even possible in the world. Knowing that his resurrection was the final proof that everything he stood for during his life was legitimate is exactly what expands the four walls of this box so that it encompasses even newer ways of conceiving life as we know it today. A conception that allows complete gender equality, as well as the dismantling of an oppressive gender binary itself; a conception of a world without gun violence, human trafficking, and nuclear proliferation; a society that is concerned about the welfare of the poor and homeless and not about convenience, cheapness, and comfort. These things are possible, because anything is possible with God, including resurrection.
As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, if Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, then the Christian faith is entirely in vain. There he goes with the logic again. It’s such a frank reminder of the importance of this day. Happy Easter!
Word of the Day: paschal, which is an adjective that describes anything that pertains to Easter. This root of this is word is fascinating: it comes via Greek and Latin (which explains why the French celebrate Pâques and the Spanish celebrate Pascua), but was itself originally from Aramaic and Hebrew. The word פֶּסַח (pesach/[ˈpɛsɑːx]) means “Passover”, the important Jewish holiday, which for Christians corresponds to Good Friday. Somehow, Passover was borrowed into Romance languages to refer to the day of Jesus’ resurrection rather than his crucifixion. But then, that was lost in translation in England, which used a pagan Old English goddess of the dawn, Eostre, as the namesake for this springtime holiday. (Compare to the German Ostern.) You can read more in-depth studies of the names of Easter on Wikipedia.