Sunday, 16 April 2006

Uneasy Easter

My friend Kim Fabricius posted this recently at Connexions, and I thought it deserved to be posted again here today:

Simone Weil once said that “if the gospel omitted all mention of Christ’s resurrection, faith would be easier for me.” What could this brilliant, saintly, mystical French philosopher have possibly meant by such a provocative statement?

I think that Weil was challenging the common but shallow assumption that the resurrection makes life easier for those who believe. It doesn’t.

After all, the disciples were completely wrong-footed by the events of Easter, and their reactions to the news that “He is risen!” suggest disturbance and disorientation, not confirmation and relief. They were like the walking wounded after an explosion, and their subsequent witness was as overwhelmed as it was overwhelming.

That’s why those courtroom-inspired “proofs” of the resurrection are so misconceived and insipid. They not only fail to resolve the insurmountable literary and historical problems of the gospel texts, they turn the irreducibly mysterious into the demonstrable and manageable, as if the resurrection were under our control and for our consolation.

Of course the Easter message is about life, but only insofar as it is not a denial of death but a defiant “nevertheless!” in the face of the inexorable fact of death. There is power in this “nevertheless!”, but as Nicholas Lash observes, “it is not, however, explanatory power. The Christian is as baffled and as heartbroken by the darkness of the world as anybody else.”

In short, Easter does not eliminate Good Friday, Easter illuminates Good Friday; the resurrection is not the reversal of the crucifixion but the disclosure of its eternal significance.

Finally, the resurrection begins an insurrection led by the Crucified, who in a world of vengeance does not settle old scores but speaks words of forgiveness and peace; who in a world of suffering does not hide his wounds but exposes them to human touch; and who in a world of escapism does not protect his followers but sends them out as agents of liberation.

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