FAITH + IDEAS =: last updated 04/21/2011
April 20, 2011 Volume 4 Issue 7
. . . an e-conversation with the Faculty of Gordon College . . .
By Steven A. Hunt
A friend of mine once expressed frustration with his inability to believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection, the story of Easter. He saw his non-belief as some kind of final rejection of God. But he didn’t want it perceived that way or for God to take it personally; he just struggled to believe Christ rose from the dead. I’m sure he’s not alone
But as I told my friend, I believe the story of Easter is good news for Christians and non-Christians alike. In fact, I’m convinced it is a day for which everyone can be grateful, regardless of what they believe.
First, Christians have been celebrating this good news for nearly two thousand years. Indeed, it is the central proclamation of the faith. But why celebrate it as “good news”? The “good” part is simply this: Jesus’ resurrection shows that death is not the last word. That God intervened in history, in real time and space by raising his son from the dead, makes it “news” in a journalistic sense. Through this historical event we learn that God gave life to his son in part to show that he wants to give life—real, substantial and unending life—to us all. This was his intention in the first place. One might even begin to fancy that God can’t imagine living without us. At least that might go some way toward explaining Good Friday.
The Easter event also shows more clearly than anything else that God is already in the process of setting this broken world right. So it is then, according to Christian tradition, that the first Easter morning was the dawn of a new creation; it was “In the beginning” all over again on that first day of the week in the garden. And since this work was set into motion, Christians await the denouement while working toward its fulfillment. Thy kingdom come, we pray.
In this work also, death has been utterly vanquished, dealt a death-blow, if you will. Perhaps it was crushed under the weight of that stone which rolled from the tomb. Thus we need not live in fear, toiling in desperation, worrying that an inescapable, meaningless end awaits us, that the seeming non-existence before our birth merely foreshadowed the time after our death. Nor need we live frenetic, harried lives, simply attempting to repress thoughts about the inevitable.
Instead, we ought to own up to this fact: we all die. Denial here creates quite a hangover at some point. Easter, however, provides the opportunity to slow down, to be grateful for what truly matters and for what God has done in Christ. This good news fills the hearts of Christians today.
But what about those who can’t put their trust in what they might perceive as, some pie-in-the-sky delusion? What about those who read the preceding paragraph and say, “talk about denial”? Can the story be good news for them?
If nothing else, Easter can be understood as a powerful mythic story, one that schools us in the power of hope. Doesn’t the story teach that if Jesus can begin again, having been rejected by his own people, abandoned by his disciples and murdered by imperialist overlords, so can the rest of us?
Doesn’t nature teach the same lesson? Spring itself—especially in New England—is a welcome reminder that life returns to barren, dormant trees. And so, after a time of deathly cold, the warmth of life can return to our living deaths as well. The sun always comes around again. We can begin again therefore and flourish. We don’t need to live life bound to destructive patterns of behavior or like we’re simply the sum total of our negative baggage because a new, vibrant life remains a possibility. Truth be told, that new life begins with hope.
So the story of Easter can teach everyone to hope, to hope that life can conquer death. And if hope is a first step towards faith, who knows where this journey will lead? Is not humankind’s seemingly infinite capacity to hold on, even in the darkest times, muffled evidence itself of Easter’s basic truth? To what, or better perhaps, to Whom shall we give credit for this innate and uniquely human strength?
Whether taken as historical fact, one which changes everything, or as mythic fiction, one which symbolizes the truth that hope springs eternal, the resurrection of Jesus is good news indeed. Happy Easter.
Steven A. Hunt is associate professor biblical studies at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. He and his wife and their four children live in Rowley, MA.