It’s Easter, or just after, and I wonder why we celebrate it. “He is risen” and “#indeed” littered my Facebook on the 20th and I restrained myself from posting a snarky but genuine “does it matter?” Why is there such a strong focus on Christ’s death and alleged resurrection when the rest of his teachings the rest of the year seem so much more important? Again I ask: does it matter? And, if so, what does it mean?
In pursuit of a thoughtful response, I spoke with professor of theology and Christian Scriptures John Wright, who, it turns out, has clearly thought about the subject before.
Wright waits for me in the courtyard East of Rohr Social Science at a metal table in blue morning shade, birds chirp invisibly yet not inaudibly in the green behind us. John sits calmly with a black computer at his chest and sips on a diet cola.
“The game is afoot,” he cryptically remarks. “What game?” I ask. “Finals.” I laugh in agreement, and match him in posture, easing into what will be a very interesting conversation.
We begin by discussing what, at its heart, Easter is about. I bring up the well-distributed notion of celebrating Easter because “Jesus died for our sins.”
“Well that’s a sick thing to do,” John remarks.
My thoughts, exactly. As I often ruminate on this subject, a quote from Dostoevsky’s “The Brother Karamazov” comes to mind. At the conclusion of a monologue asserting that suffering of the innocent is too high a price for “harmony,” Ivan Karamazov, one of three brothers, promises this:
“And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket [to heaven], and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.”
Ivan’s spiritual martyrdom is honorable to say the least, and certainly the paradox of Christ’s suffering is not, and perhaps cannot be solved. I asked John about this.
“Easter is not about the crucifixion of Jesus per se. If the Easter is about the crucifixion of Jesus, one has taken the heart out of the Gospel. You cannot separate the crucifixion of Jesus from the resurrection. Nor can you separate the resurrection from the crucifixion. [If you think that way], Jesus becomes a function for one’s own self-gain.”
But what about the ungodly suffering of this supremely innocent individual? Ivan’s distress over God’s apparently perverted display of cost-benefit analysis, taking a human life in such a way for such an end is valid one, and one I sympathize with greatly if not adopt as my own.
“If you read the New Testament early Christian documents,” John offers, “it’s not so much on Jesus suffering, or not his physical suffering, but it is on the shame. The social disgrace, the identification with people who are seen as the refuse of humanity.”
But this identification is what makes Jesus’ suffering so unbearable to both Ivan and myself, at least if it is used as a means by God to allow salvation. Granted, Wright did mention “you cannot separate the crucifixion of Jesus from the resurrection.”
Now I can’t speak about this topic without mentioning at least once that I’m absolutely uncertain that there ever was a resurrection. Let’s see what John has to say:
“[I]f Christ was not raised from the dead, we of all people are to be pitied.”
Wright explains that “in the resurrection of Jesus we see that our lives have a significance that goes beyond now that frees us to do what’s true and good and beautiful rather than what is merely there to grab for power and vantage [here on Earth].
Life-after-life. Wright is saying that the resurrection is not only a confirmation of Jesus’ claim to faith, but it shows us that “death is not the final word.”
“And so, life matters,” he says, “The life of the poorest child in-utero, the life of the Ukrainian or Russian soldiers on the border of Ukraine. The life of the poorest person in Africa, or Haiti. Those matter. Life matters. We’re free to work for life without using the tools of death.”
I left this conversation enlightened, if not more or less still troubled. Although not all of my questions were answered (some of them truly can’t be) Wright showed me a less sadistic Christian view of Eater, one that ends where I like to think the year begins: with Life, and new beginnings.