Blogging Towards Easter Sunday: April 8th
Easter is about more than just eggs. It seems stupid to say it. Yet in our current cultural context, commercial settings and pop culture vernacular, it has to be said. What is Easter about? Historically, we know that the group of Hebraic and Israelite followers and disciples of Jesus of Nazareth claimed that he rose from the dead, leaving his tomb empty, at sunrise on this third day after his crucifixion, as the Jewish Sabbath ended. That community soon became diverse and different, incorporating and engrafting people from diverse cultures, languages and nations; as well as involving both men and women as full participants. This diversity – which today seems commonplace – was radical in the time of the Roman Empire. In the Ancient Worldview nations and tribes all worshipped their own gods. And so didn’t mix with other peoples by marriage, real estate location outside of their cultural ghettos and in religious communities.
As time went on, things changed in Christianity. French sociologist and famous Christian Scholar Jacques Ellul describes it as saying that we ended up with what we know as Christianity today, but which was adapted, re-interpreted, and tweaked from what was first known and celebrated on that resurrection morning. He calls that, X. He also says we can’t go back to know X in a pure, unadulterated, clear way. We have 2,000 years of cultural accommodation, philosophical dialogue, sexism, historical triumphalism, secularizing imperialism, scholarship and ecclesial abuse which can distort our view of what Jesus taught and how those first followers lived out his teachings in a radically inclusive and transformative way. Within 300 years the teachings and religious reframing of Judaism by Jesus of Nazareth went from a small, unknown sect, to a persecuted illegal religion, and then was adopted and imposed as the imperial religion by the Roman Emperor Constantine on the known world of the time (the Empire).
Today, we live in a age that is suspect of most things, in particular historical ones that claim to articulate a truth, a knowledge, a way that shapes the world and how we interact with it. Philosopher Paul Ricœur calls this the “Hermeneutics of Suspicion.” We first suspect that things are untrue, or biased, or subjectively articulated before we can know that they’re true or objective. The dangerous consequence in all that is that we can simply settle for tolerating each other, which maybe isn’t as great as we imagine. Think of the world tolerance: many of us are lactose (or something else) intolerant. Our bodies won’t tolerate certain elements. In fact some people are forced to tolerate medicines, like Chemotherapy, nearly to the point of death. And so maybe tolerance isn’t as great of a thing as we imagine. Maybe what’s more honest is to engage, dialogue, talk and explore. We tend to engage faith with a desire to be objective and open-minded, but we all come to the table with our personal subjectivity, our individual preconceived ideas or feelings. How do these texts engage you today?
Isaiah 25 is a celebration by the prophet Isaiah of the victorious deliverance of the Israelites from their imperial occupation, threatened racial cleansing and cultural reshaping at the hands of the invading Babylonian empire. God delivers them from their physical and spiritual exile, to return home: a home where all find a place. And then the prophets goes farther, sharing a vision of God’s future plan for the world: a celebration feast at a table, around which all nations and people can find a place.
How do you see the theme of justice in this text? What does this vision speak to in terms of the identity of God and the way in which we are invited to live as the human community? The people waited for God to save them. God does. What is that saving?
Mark 16 is Mark’s retelling of the resurrection event. Curiously it ends with fear, and the locked-lips of those that witnessed this miracle and were told to tell of it. Why don’t they tell anyone of this great news? Why does Mark end his story telling with these women seemingly paralyzed by fear & lacking courage? For what news did the women go looking at the tomb? And what did they find there? How did it differ from their expectations? How did it change their expectations going forward?
In our culture it’s often fear that keeps us from risking to love the stranger, to reach out across the myriad lines – political, race-based, religious, philosophical – that separate and divide us. We often reduce faith to a litmus test on specific issues and perspectives that dominate our time, I think for example of gay marriage, budget deficits, terrorism, wars and end-time interpretations. Yet when we re-read the Bible, specifically today’s texts of Isaiah 25 and Mark 16, looking for an answer affirming or disagreeing with our stance. I wonder if we’re not missing the whole point. We end up using a Biblical illiteracy, or a secularizing vernacular to simply intensify the vitriol of our time as opposed to taking the text as it is, looking for what Mark is trying to communicate to us in his gospel, looking beyond what Jacques Ellul calls Christianity, to the radical message of X.
What does resurrection mean to and for you?; for our city in the wake of Monday’s shootings?; for our state and nation paralyzed by political polarization?; for our world wrestling with financial inequality, the dramatic changes born of our emerging technological power, pluralistic diversity and vitriolic politics? It can’t be just about eggs. If that were the case, then X would never have turned the Roman World upside down in merely 300 years and given hope and purpose to progressives and conservatives, skeptics and fanatics, recluses and proletarians ever since.