Because Easter has become so much a part of both our church life and secular culture, we forget how disorienting and traumatic an event it must have been for the first witnesses who became the church. They were shocked by what they learned of God’s intentions for the world and by the way Jesus would reveal God’s love through his death by crucifixion. It required generations to plumb the law and the prophets to understand how glory could come out of such suffering and loss.
Two millennia later, we have the same scriptures, and the rites and symbols of Holy Week to help us enter, recapture and celebrate the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As the central belief of our Christian faith, our point of entry into all the other mysteries, we need more than words or gestures. We need an encounter with the living God.
Before there was doctrine or theology or even religion, there was human experience. Holy Week takes us back to the kindled fire and swirling sparks our ancestors used to push back the night. The paschal candle is lit, and it leads the community to sacred space. There the ancient story is told: creation, exodus, sacrifice, faith, promise, destiny, suffering and restoration. The Gospel is proclaimed.
As we try to grasp the profound mystery the authors of the Gospels are trying to convey, we realize that we are dealing with more than reports of a miraculous reappearance of a dead man. The Resurrection accounts are multilayered, densely theological and fulfillment-rich affirmations that what happened to Jesus changed not only history but the very cosmos and what we know of human reality on the time-space continuum. As someone once put it, “The end of the story appeared in the middle.”
Moreover, the Resurrection is not just about Jesus. He is affirmed by the believing community as the first, the pioneer, the older brother who opens up for all of us the possibility of life beyond the grave, life with God. And the promise of this new life changes forever the way we live in this world, because now we know what life is about, what it is for, how we ought to live it to engage the mystery as much as possible, because this is the life God wants for us.
Another amazing surprise: Jesus, who is revealed after his resurrection as God present among us in his human, historical self, has projected that incarnate mystery out into the world. God, in Christ, is now present in every member of the body of Christ, a gift potentially expansive to and inclusive of every human being and even creation itself. Everyone and everything is now revealed as sharing in the holiness of God, as a point of contact with God.
Finally, in a twist to the story that is either wonderful or disturbing, depending on our perspective, Jesus turns human power upside down and inside out by disappearing into the poor, the powerless, the crucified of history. If we are planning to celebrate Easter, this is where we will find him, know him and become one with him.