On dying and rising: The annual Easter essay

Photo by Alexandru Tudorache on Unsplash

Welcome to my ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s unofficial essays on modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Holy Saturday & the Easter Vigil
Revised Common Lectionary readings for Holy Saturday
Revised Common Lectionary readings for the Easter Vigil

I’ve been trying to relax my rational mind in this final Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter) of Holy Week. I figure that I try to control, make sense of, and rationalize the other 98% of my life, so when it comes to this faith thing, I’m trying to give myself permission to let it go and lose myself in the mystery as much as I can. And it’s really hard.

I don’t know if I can honestly say with my logical Western brain that I believe the resurrection of Jesus was a journalistic factual account of something that happened at a certain moment in time. Maybe it’s true that much of the resurrection story was embellished well after Jesus’s death to fit in accordance with the earlier scriptures…

Maybe that’s true. 
And that doesn’t discount this whole resurrection thing for me one iota.

I’m so tired of relying on fact. I’m so tired of needing absolute material confirmation as a prerequisite before believing in any one thing. No, I don’t always take the Bible or the resurrection stories literally and coming to grips with that has only enhanced my faith, not weakened it.

If you asked me if the Bible was factual/literal or mythical/parabolic, I’d say… Yes.

Today, we are celebrating an ancient narrative born out of a historical event. We are making intentional and life-affirming meaning out of something that just… happened (or didn’t — however you look at it).

But I believe 100% in death and resurrection. I’m getting there with Jesus, but see it for sure in my life. Looking back, I’ve lived, died and have been resurrected by something other than my individual will several times. The life I live now is nothing like the one I lived when I was 12 or 20 or even 30 and I’ve had nothing to do with that. If it were up to me, I’d have kept everything the same. Because change is scary and death is terrifying but resurrection is holy.

Here’s how I see the resurrection from my fairly low (perhaps middle-ish) Christological viewpoint…

At the time of Jesus, messiahs were supposed to save everyone, not be executed. They were supposed to forever reign in glory on the throne of the law. Therefore, a majority of people wrote Jesus off the moment his heart stopped beating. He’d failed the Messianic litmus test.

But these Jesus followers who’d experienced so much joy, freedom, and liberation from his countercultural, shocking, table-turning, grace-driven message of God’s unending one-directional love couldn’t let it go. (And I even want to believe that they saw him fishing on the shore days after his death.)

To them, this was/is the Messiah. This Messiah, who’d consciously died to the law essentially putting an end to it. As his last words uttered, it is finished.

When Jesus drew his last breath, the chapter of God-as-law-enforcer was finished and a new chapter of grace had been initiated.

The work of Jesus, as vital as it was when he was alive, had really started when his heart stopped. If Jesus is the personification of the divine, then the law is dead and grace abounds. Jesus had absorbed every ounce of retributive violence and wrath that we expected a Messiah to enact as he absorbed it into himself and breathed words of utter forgiveness. Jesus took the violence out of circulation into himself and symbolically ended it.

His apostles started seeing grace — Christ (the more universal term for the logos or divine nature that Jesus embodied) — everywhere. They saw the risen Christ in unexpected physical form on several accounts. Christ had risen.

And so, this day is rich with symbolic meaning from the micro/individual (our own personal deaths and resurrections — some more literal than others) to the macro/religious (in the death and resurrection of the grace-fueled Messiah).

Where I live, in Chicago, it’s spring. We had a several-day stretch where temperatures dipped to almost -50 degrees this winter (yes, that’s negative 50 — with the wind chill). And yet, as I look out of my window, little delicate buds are shooting up in all their fragile glory. Mother nature is giving the big middle finger to death as she triumphs again just as she does every year around this time.

Every spring, death is made the fool again. And on this resurrection day, the violent God is substituted with an ever-loving, merciful, and radically redemptive one.

Happy Easter. May you find new life in every holy moment.