This past Sunday was the Christian holiday of Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion on Good Friday. For the past few years I've simply ignored the holiday. I was raised as a Catholic, but for reasons that are probably obvious , I became totally dismayed with the Church and no longer practice the religion. But for some reason this year the holiday caused me to pause and reflect about what it means, so I thought I would share my ruminations:
The world of Roman Palestine two thousand years ago was obviously very different than it is today in the United States, but in several crucial ways it was similar. The people were, back then, also ruled by the champions of the status quo who believed in the system, authority, and the way things had always been done. The wise and the elite calmly controlled the passions of people, exerting a bit of pressure here and some fear there to ensure that they society maintained its order. They had always succeeded in this venture, so whenever some cavalier radical turned up to challenge them, they would smile, knowing that all that was needed was to select the proper hammer to pound them back into the board. The tools were different back then. Today we use things like experts on cable television who've spent their lives investing in status quo to denounce anyone who suggests anything outside the area of acceptable policies; back then they used the Torah, Roman law, and crucifixion to keep people on the straight and narrow.
Humans have always (and usually quietly) chaffed under this system, because human beings are, at heart, romantics. We're the ones, after all, who when we saw the sun moving across the sky, we saw a beautiful god pulling it on a chariot, and who imagined that the size of our people was predicted by a God who directed our patriarch to look at the sky and “number the stars.” So it was no surprise that when a bearded man with a funny accent (Jesus was just a country bumpkin from Galilee, you know) came to Jerusalem speaking his message of love and equality, people eagerly ate it all up. The poor and the outcasts, who were his biggest followers, were probably thrilled to know that all the insults they endured from the powerful were just part of a trick performed on them by ill-meaning priests and pharisees who improperly supposed that because they had happened to possess great wealth, they were also especially loved by God. No, Jesus said, it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. God was not on the side of the powerful, but on the side of the weak and ignored, and those who misuse their greater position in this life would pay for it in the end. Class warfare at its finest.
It was also no surprise that when leaders got word of this meddlesome preacher, they quickly talked some sense into the people. “He's causing disorder and destroying our society,” they probably said while also spreading vicious rumors about how the whole “virgin birth” thing was a cover for his whore of a mother. And so the people turned on their former champion, and he was crucified.
There the story usually ends for our heroes, the challengers that want to make the world new again. They almost always die a tragic death of one form or another. Some, like Martin Luther King, get killed in the prime of their lives. For others the body remains alive, but the old idealism that made them heroes is ground to dust by the enormity of the problems they face or by the weakness of their own souls. But with Jesus maybe, just maybe, it didn't.
His followers claimed that he did not die and was not defeated, but rather rose from the dead in defiance of those in charge making the proto-Machiavellian calculations. A part of me thinks this is absolute crap. But another part of me believes that it could be true. And yet another part of me feels that even if it isn't true, what a wonderful and hopeful story that it is, and one which lit a fire in the heart of thousands of great men and women who took those lessons of love and equality seriously and struggled against the same heartless forces of injustice against which Jesus fought.
And so, in their spirit, perhaps each Easter, if we have nothing else to celebrate, we can renew our promise to work for a better world, and hope that one day we experience that same transcendent feeling of victory that Jesus' followers felt when they rolled back the tomb, and found it empty.