April 20, 2014


Why Easter is so important to Christians To us, Easter proves that death is a joke (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 4/20/14, The Week)

Unlike the Eucharist and the crucifixion, which seem to almost make a mockery of any traditional notion of God, the Easter story is fairly easy to comprehend as the logical consequence of the previous episode. We Christians are crazy enough to believe that God can be killed, but not so crazy as to believe that God must stay dead. 

Belief in the bodily -- literal, not metaphorical -- resurrection of Jesus Christ is the belief on which every other Christian belief rests. It's how we know that this bizarre 1st-century preacher was not just a preacher, but actually the Son of God. He rose from the dead. 

Indeed, the Oxford historical scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright has argued very thoroughly that the only way to explain the sudden and baffling growth of early Christianity, despite Jewish and Roman opposition, was that Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the dead. There was no notion of bodily resurrection from the dead in Jewish or Greek or Roman religion. And in the history of 1st century Judaism, when there were plenty of people who claimed to be the Messiah, nobody ever, ever claimed that a would-be Messiah who had been killed by the occupier was the Messiah, for the self-evident reason that according to Judaism, the Messiah would not fail. 

We have a patronizing way of thinking that people in the 1st century might very well believe that someone rose from the dead because they were primitives who believed in fairy stories. This is a cultural prejudice. If anything, everything about their religion and culture made 1st-century Jews even less likely to believe in a bodily resurrection, or that a crucified man could be a Messiah, than our society that believes in astrology and homeopathy. The best and perhaps only explanation for the fact that a bunch of 1st century Jews suddenly, inexplicably, started running around claiming that their crucified prophet was the Messiah and had risen from the dead, Wright argues, is that they saw him bodily risen from the dead. 

Now, though Wright's scholarship is very well regarded, this is nowhere near empirical "proof" of Jesus' resurrection. And obviously, you could line up many scholars who don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is just to emphasize that, yes, Christians believe it actually happened. Literally. 

But Christians celebrate Easter not just for historical reasons. They believe that Jesus' triumph over death on Easter wasn't just his triumph -- it was ours, too. This is a bit harder to explain.

Posted by at April 20, 2014 8:01 AM

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