There is an extraordinary idea at the heart of Christianity. Resurrection. It is what Easter is all about, whatever other meanings may cluster about the celebration.
. And, of course, it is about a very particular resurrection, that of a man whose cause collapsed, who was betrayed, beaten, condemned, humiliated and executed in the most cruel and degrading way that even the Romans could devise. It is, therefore, about the overturning of all the usual measures of the meaning of life or of how we measure success or failure, measure the significance of our having lived.
Back in the Christian ages. people would speak of the crazier members of society as being ‘touched by God’. Theirs was a great misfortune undoubtedly, but for that very reason they were the special objects of God’s love, the innocent suffers of this world’s vicissitudes who, with the lepers, the blind and the lame, widows and orphans, were to be reverenced, in a sense, because their very suffering in this life connected them with the suffering Christ and foreshadowed their rising with him as well. The same impulse and understanding exists today, for example, in Pope Francis’ exhortations to Catholics to go out to the margins of society because there they will find Christ.
This oddity in Christianity needs to mentioned because it can be obscured by some versions of Christianity that would have you believe that ‘good people’ will be blessed by God with worldly success. Also, of course, because we still can lapse into the ‘great man’ type thinking that singles out people like Alexander, Caesar, Cecil Rhodes, Teddy Roosevelt or, indeed, Catherine the Great, Florence Nightingale or Angela Merkel as people of ‘destiny’. Christian faith rather proposes that what happens to someone in this life is only half, in fact far less than half, the story.
So Easter brings hope. It’s hard to imagine anyone being in a more hopeless state than Jesus on the cross. But he rose from the dead, and that is the destiny of all those who, like him, keep faith in God, humanity, goodness and truth, despite seeing evil, lies and corruption apparently triumphant. None of this makes sense without the Resurrection, without Easter. The Resurrection puts everything else in life in perspective, even crucifixion. In the midst of troubles and disaster, people of hope carry on because hope trumps fear, trumps despair. And the Christian hope is Resurrection, it is built on Easter.
Our civil community will also be celebrating Easter, if only as a long weekend. But the context this year is interesting. There are a lot of ‘risings’ going on. Communities are coming back to life after years of drought. People and towns are rebuilding after the devastations of fires and floods. We’re all sensing that the pandemic will increasingly impact less and less on our lives as the year goes on. We are celebrating the people who went above and beyond in facing those various crises, who showed strength and resilience and extraordinary care, often at risk to themselves. We talk about seeing ‘the best of humanity’ emerging out of the disasters and struggles of recent times.
At the same time, however, we are going through a time of revulsion at very public instances of the abuse of power, at misogynistic attitudes in high places and the sexual exploitation that has gone with it, at the hoarding of vaccines by wealthy nations, at racist attacks and attitudes emerging from the shadows, and an extraordinary proliferation of ‘fake news’ and straight-out lies witnessed by the whole world. Here is the inhumanity, injustice and evil of Good Friday still operating in our time.
The cycle of Good Friday experiences of evil and death, and the contrasting experiences of goodness and life rising out of suffering, continues. We are conscious in renewed ways of the old sporting maxim, applied to life, that it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. You can be graceful or disgraceful. In the Christian world-view, how you play the game also has eternal consequences, as shown by the Resurrection of Jesus.
Not everyone who reads this will share my beliefs. I understand that. Still, in a time when religion is often seen as basically an institution intended to improve society, and perhaps not a very effective one at that, it needs to be said that there’s more to it than that. It’s a different way of seeing the world, life and human destiny, by seeing them through the twin lenses of a shattered man-god on a cross and, on Easter morning, an empty grave.