Paul L. Caron

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter: Recovering The Strangeness Of The Resurrection

Wall Street Journal op-ed:  Recovering the Strangeness of Easter, by Robert Barron (Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Los Angeles:

We are told in the Bible that three women, friends and followers of Jesus, came to the tomb of their Master early on the Sunday morning following his crucifixion in order to anoint his body. Undoubtedly they anticipated that, while performing this task, they would wistfully recall the things that their friend had said and done. Perhaps they would express their frustration at those who had brought him to this point, betraying, denying and running from him in his hour of need. Certainly, they expected to weep in their grief.

But when they arrived, they found to their surprise that the heavy stone had been rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. Had a grave robber been at work? Their astonishment only intensified when they spied inside the grave, not the body of Jesus, but a young man clothed in white, blithely announcing, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”

The mysterious messenger’s communication was, to put it bluntly, not that someone had broken into this tomb, rather that someone had broken out. In St. Mark’s version of the story—which is the earliest that we have—the reaction of the women is described as follows: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.”

If the grave of a hero is customarily a place of serene contemplation, this one is so disturbing that people run from it in fear—and thereupon hangs the tale of Easter. Especially today, it is imperative that Christians recover the sheer strangeness of the Resurrection of Jesus and stand athwart all attempts to domesticate it. ...

Christians have been teasing out the implications of this good news for two millennia, but I will focus on just three themes.

First, for believers, the Resurrection means that Jesus is Lord. The phrase Iesous Kyrios, Jesus the Lord, is found everywhere in Paul’s letters and was likely on his lips regularly as he preached. A watchword of that time and place was Kaiser Kyrios, Caesar the Lord, meaning that the emperor of Rome is the one to whom ultimate allegiance is due. St. Paul’s intentional play upon that title, implying that the true Lord is not Caesar but rather someone whom Caesar put to death and whom God raised from the dead, was meant to tweak the nose of the political powers. ...

A second key implication of the Easter event is that Jesus’ extraordinary claims about himself were ratified. Unlike any of the other great religious founders, Jesus consistently spoke and acted in the very person of God. Declaring a man’s sins forgiven, referring to himself as greater than the Temple, claiming lordship over the Sabbath and authority over the Torah, insisting that his followers love him more than their mothers and fathers, more than their very lives, Jesus assumed a divine prerogative. And it was precisely this apparently blasphemous pretension that led so many of his contemporaries to oppose him. After his awful death on an instrument of torture, even his closest followers became convinced that he must have been delusional and misguided.

But when his band of Apostles saw him alive again after his death, they came to believe that he is who he said he was. They found his outrageous claim ratified in the most surprising and convincing way possible. Their conviction is beautifully expressed in the confession of Thomas the erstwhile doubter who, upon seeing the risen Lord, fell to his knees and said simply, “My Lord and My God.”

For believers ever since, if the crucified and risen Jesus is divine, there is a moral imperative to make him unambiguously the center of our lives. But we also have the assurance that God has not given up on the human project, that God intends fully to save us, body and soul. One of the favorite phrases in the writings of the Fathers of the Church is Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus, which means, God became man that man might become God. No religion or philosophy has ever proclaimed a more radical humanism than that.

A third insight that we can derive from the Resurrection is that God’s love is more powerful than anything that is in the world. On the cross, Jesus took on, as it were, all the sins of humanity. Violence, hatred, cruelty, institutional injustice, stupidity, scapegoating and resentment brought him to Calvary and, it seemed, overwhelmed him. Like a warrior, he confronted all those forces that stand athwart God’s purposes—what the theologian Karl Barth called “the nothingness,” what the author of Genesis referred to as the tohu-va-bohu, the primal chaos.

But he fought, not with the weapons of the world, not with an answering violence, but rather with a word of pardon: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead showed that this spiritual resistance was not in vain.

When he appeared to his disciples, the New Testament tells us, the risen Lord typically did two things: He showed his wounds and he spoke the word Shalom, peace. On the one hand, Christians should not forget the depth of human depravity, the sin that contributed to the death of the Son of God. Whenever we are tempted to exculpate ourselves, we have only to look at the wounds of Christ and the temptation evanesces.

But on the other hand, we know that God’s love, his offer of Shalom, is greater than any possible sin of ours. Christians understood this precisely because human beings killed God, and God returned in forgiving love. In achingly beautiful poetry, St. Paul expressed this amazing grace: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In the Greco-Roman culture of the first century, the term euangelion was used to signal an imperial victory, the “good news” that Caesar had conquered. With characteristic panache, the first Christians twisted the term for their own purposes. In the Resurrection of Jesus, God has won the victory over sin, over corruption and injustice, over death itself. This is the Good News that issued forth from shock of the empty tomb on Easter morning, and that has echoed up and down the last 20 centuries.

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