THE STORY OF EASTER is an outrageous one. On Friday, a man was executed and buried. On Sunday, he was alive again, and out walking around. The story of the Resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith and it is an outrageous story.
But that’s not all. The interpretation of this event as given in the New Testament is equally outrageous. The Resurrection, we are told, is the evidence that in Jesus, God has dealt with both the power and the penalty of sin. Forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God are offered through Jesus, and death and evil have been robbed of their ultimate power. The Resurrection is God’s proof that evil and death will not have the final word in God’s creation.
This story seems so far-fetched that it is perfectly understandable that well-meaning people would be tempted to try to water it down to make it acceptable to sophisticated and scientifically savvy people like you and me. We know that dead people don’t come back to life, and so we are assured that the story is not intended to be taken at face value.
It is really a picture or a symbol meant to convey various truths about the human condition. It teaches us, for example, that good always triumphs over evil, or that God is with us in even the darkest circumstances, or that Jesus, though dead, was nevertheless present with his followers “in spirit.” (Sort of like the man who invented whiskey; though he is dead, his spirit remains with us.)
But I have a couple of problems with the various efforts to rationalize this story, no matter how well intentioned. The first is that the New Testament writers really do seem to believe that the tomb was empty on Sunday morning. They never give the slightest indication that they are working in the realm of symbol or picture or metaphor. In fact, many of them paid an incredible price in terms of imprisonment, torture and even death because they insisted on the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead and left the tomb.
At any point it would have been easy to say to their tormentors, “Lighten up here, for Pete’s sake, it’s only a metaphor.” But they didn’t. They insisted on telling the story of the empty tomb and what it meant as the centrepiece of God’s plan of salvation.
My second problem is that if we insist on reducing this story to what we can understand and accept on our own terms we are placing severe limitations on what we believe God can do. If we reduce it to what we can understand and accept at a rational level, chances are that we are not even dealing with God anymore. And if we are not, then this story is not sufficient to meet the deepest needs of the human condition. It simply comes to symbolize some nice, happy thoughts. In my view, the Christian faith is anything but reasonable and rational, and we do it a grave disservice when we try to make it so.
On the other hand, if we are dealing with God, then anything is possible, including the Resurrection. In this regard, I love what William Willimon says: “Don’t reduce the Gospel in order to make it intelligible to modern people. Rather, proclaim the Gospel in its fullness in order to help modern people understand why their lives are so often unintelligible.” This is good advice.
In my experience as a parish priest, I still find that when this story of God’s initiative in Jesus and of grace at measureless cost is told simply and clearly to modern, sophisticated people, they respond humbly and with gladness and, in believing, find new life.
Yes, the Easter story is outrageous. But that’s because the God of the Bible is an outrageous God who loves with an outrageous love and comes to us with outrageous grace. In a society in which loneliness, alienation, guilt and denial of death are the order of the day, nothing less than this will do.
The Resurrection is the good news story of all time. Let’s celebrate it with joy and passion this Easter!
Canon Harold Percy is director of the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College and rector of Trinity Anglican Church, Streetsville, Ont.
The Easter People
Snow on Easter Day. Is it
The purity of Christ or His Mother?
Those symbols of perfection contradict
The death of winter when she delivered him. Easter regenerates. Snow turns to water
Irrigating the soil, giving life to plants.
We are not pure, like driven snow
More like the salt of the earth. Easter gives hope that man has a future
Despite all genocides that mock the
Image we were made in. Not like a
Chocolate egg, but the Rwandan women Who were gang-raped or Bosnians ethnically
Cleansed. Their fault was that they were of the
Wrong tribe. Theirs was not the sin. It was others
Who say they know the mind of the unknowable. Snow at Easter cleanses Creation of the
Filth left by humanity and gives it
A fresh opportunity for redemption
We are the Easter people. April 7, 1996