EASTER 2013 | Who? What? How? Why? These are the questions at the heart of any news story. And of course, the story of the day involves the impossible: the resurrection of a dead man.
The WHO, of course, is a rabbi from the backwater called Galilee, by the name of Jesus Bar Joseph. A Pharisee, probably. A radical, in the eyes of some. A reformer, certainly. But the Christian tradition makes bolder claims for him than this.
They say he was the Lady Wisdom, God’s self-expression, the artist through whom the world was fashioned. They say that she was the Living Torah, the life-giving words handed down to Moses—that she was both the giver and the Law itself—who taught Israel, and guided Jacob, who went with them into captivity, and led them back to safety in their own land. They said that this Wisdom could not abide to be separated from the world, and so she was born in a stable to a humble couple, who raised their boy to honor the Law and the Prophets.
They say that this boy grew into a teacher. They say that he was both fully human and fully God, an alien to neither heaven nor earth, but at home in both places. They say that in his body, he wedded heaven and earth, body and spirit, creation and Creator. In his self, in his being, in his life he united everything that was separated.
He taught this unity, and this teaching was so terrifying that he was killed. The creator became the crucified. The author of life had been led away to death. But the Christian tradition has one more unlikely assertion to make about this man up its sleeve: it contends that he did not stay dead. But the reason for the resurrection is often not made clear.
Which brings us to the WHAT. What happened in that event? There is a startling symmetry between the end of Jesus’ life and the beginning. Recall that when King Herod learned that a king was born in Bethlehem, he panicked, and he systematically rooted out any who might lay claim to his throne. Tradition says that he murdered every male child under the age of two—the slaughter of the innocents. For he could not suffer any challenge to his authority to stand.
And that’s what kings have always done, haven’t they? Eliminated all challengers to their authority?
For the whole of his ministry, Jesus taught about the Kingdom. It was a teaching that was usually misunderstood. Yet his message was simple. When the Psalmist wrote, “The earth is God’s, and all that is in it,” he captured the essence of it. The whole of the earth belongs to God, regardless of what human beings foolishly assert. God rules over every inch of it, heedless of human hubris. The creatures of the earth know this—only human beings fool themselves into thinking otherwise. When a sparrow flies across the border between Israel and Jordan, does the sparrow know it has just crossed the border? No, because the sparrow lives in the Kingdom.
Borders exists only in the human imagination. They are fictions that we construct to bolster the lie of our superiority to nature, the illusion of our authority over the earth, to contain or exclude and terrorize one another. Rome had sold the known world the lie of their rulership. They called their emperor a god, and set up his statue in their temples. They made the people of the world bend the knee by the force of the sword—and one by one the nations capitulated to the fiction of their rule.
The Jewish people believed this lie, too, and they were eager to throw it off in favor of another lie—the fiction of their own superiority, their own rule. All human rule is hubris. All human rule requires violence to enforce the fiction. The Roman empire pulled out the big guns in the face of Jesus’ defiance—the biggest guns they had. Their ultimate weapon was the fear of death—for it is this power that held the world terrorized in its thrall.
And when Jesus got up and walked away from the worst that Rome could do, he exposed the lie. The earth does not belong to Rome. It does not belong to Herod. It does not belong to the British Empire or the Soviet Union or the United States or any other pretender to that throne the world has ever known. The earth is God’s, and all that is in it. When Jesus rose again, it was because Empire did its worst, and empire did not win—because empire does not rule this world. God does.
Which brings us to the HOW. One of the most fascinating of all the martial arts is a relatively recent one called Aikido. It is less than a hundred years old, and it was founded utilizing the wisdom of many other, much older arts. Philosophically, however, it has a major difference from other schools. In Aikido, one’s opponents are never harmed. Instead, the opponents own force and violence are repeatedly and patiently rendered ineffective. Punches might be thrown, but the force of them is directed away without doing harm. Kicks threaten, but they are turned aside, neutralizing the energy of them. An Aikido practitioner wins a fight not by wounding or killing an opponent, but when the opponent is simply too tired or frustrated to continue.
It is the most elegant of the martial arts, because no matter how powerful the attacker, no damage is done. No matter how fatal the blows, they hurt no one. No matter how relentless the attack, the effort is futile.
In a way, the crucifixion and resurrection are God’s Aikido. Empire was a powerful attacker, the blow was fatal, the attack was relentless. And even though Jesus was sorely and powerfully wounded, he got up and walked away from the attack. And even though the Empire continued to attack Jesus’ followers for hundreds of years, it eventually gave up when it realized that THIS body simply couldn’t be killed. And no amount of effort, no threat of death, no illusion of power or grandeur could stop it or frighten it or overcome it.
Which leaves us with only one question: WHY? Why would God assert sovereignty in this way? Why would Jesus willingly walk to the cross? Why would God allow it?
Because just as Herod had to put to death all of those innocents, God had to eliminate any who might lay claim to the throne of this world. The resurrection reveals once and for all the lie of tyrannical power—especially the tyranny of the threat of death. For in the wake of Resurrection, Empire’s dire power is broken, and even death itself is defeated. Death itself is shown to be an illusion. Death itself is shown to be a lie.
But illusions die hard. We still live under the terror of empire. We still believe the lie. We still think that might makes right. We still cringe before the superior power of others. We still shrink at the thought of our own deaths—but this, too is an illusion.
Jesus has trampled them all under foot. They did their worst, and they did not defeat him. They pulled out all the stops, and he dusted himself off and kept coming. And he still keeps coming.
When we are invited to baptism, it’s not just a quaint little ritual. It’s an invitation to throw off the lies that keep us in bondage. It’s an invitation to a freedom that bows to no human power. It’s an invitation to life with no fear of death. It’s an invitation to live in the Kingdom, where God alone rules, to live in reality instead of illusion, to live an abundant life, because just surviving is not enough.
But is this a credible news story? It’s too impossible to be believed, it’s too much to ask of modern people. Very well, I’ll grant you that. I won’t ask you to believe it. I don’t believe it myself. It’s too incredible. But if reason is the rod by which all things are measured, then the human soul is expendable and pointless. There is more to the world than logic can contain. There is mystery, there is beauty, there is imagination—and none of these are even remotely reasonable.
So here’s a slightly different question: can you TRUST this story? Can you CHOOSE to rest in this version of events? Can you, by effort of will, TRUST that it is true?
To trust this story is to trust that humanity and divinity have truly come together. To trust this story is to trust that the human spirit will not be forever cowed before tyrants. To trust this story is to trust that illusions can be broken. To trust this story is to trust that we can be set free from bondage. To trust this story is to trust that death is not the end. To trust this story is to trust that there is more to life than what can be quantified and measured and explained.
And we ourselves have born witness to the truth of this, have we not? Have we not witnessed the power of God, of resurrection in our own lives? Has not Jesus shattered illusions that have held us in bondage? Have we not seen with our own eyes those who trust in Christ’s resurrection following him to their own deaths without fear?
If we don’t trust this, then hasn’t Empire actually won? Hasn’t the Empire of Rationality defeated everything in its wake, at all costs? And what a great cost it is, especially to the weak, especially to the imagination, especially to our souls.
But it need not be so. The angels asked the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” And they may well ask us the same. Why do we look for life in the weird and pointless places that we do? Why do we ourselves chase after power, and seek to hold its illusion over the heads of others? Why do we ourselves seek to rule over others, to usurp the throne of God? Why do we ourselves allow ourselves to be held captive to tyrants, to fictions, to rationality at all costs, to the terror of death? Why do we continue to swallow the lies?
The truth is the news event of the day: Every enemy of humankind has been defeated today. You need NEVER be afraid again. Not of anybody. Not of anything. And every power that might ever threaten or oppose us has been struck down.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!