Sunday, April 08, 2007

Head and Heart in Easter I

This morning's St. Paul Pioneer Press carried the following article on their op-ed page. It is a very well written explication of Easter's significance for the non-believer.

The only point I would struggle with is that the command to love which forms the heart of Easter can only be actualized when Jesus ceases to be simply a great moral example and becomes our Savior in deed and truth.

That is the 18 inch journey of a lifetime, from our brains to our hearts. Contrast this wonderul though cerebral observation with the journey of Corrine Tiffany Dow in Part II. both are vaild, but Part I is incomplete without Part II

What will future visitors see when they roll away the stone?


Article Last Updated:04/07/2007 03:15:21 AM CDT

As someone raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, I was intrigued, to say the least, when I learned a month ago about claims that a construction crew in south Jerusalem had found Jesus' remains in a limestone box, alongside those of Mary Magdalene, his wife, and Judah, their son.
The story of how Israeli developers building an apartment complex had purportedly come across the ossuary of Jesus Christ reminded me of nothing so much as one of my grandfather's favorite Clancy Brothers tunes, "They're Moving Father's Grave to Build a Sewer."
Well, they're moving father's grave to build a sewer
They're moving it regardless of expense
They dug up his remains
To put in 5-inch drains
And irrigate some posh bloke's residence.
Well, I thought, so much for the claim in "The DaVinci Code" that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had absconded to southern France after the crucifixion and started their long-suppressed lineage. All those centuries of spiritual skullduggery for naught! So much for other recent claims that Jesus had wandered east to India. And so much, of course, for the central belief of Christianity that Jesus had died on the cross, only to rise again.
So much for Easter.
Before we dismiss the central celebration of Christianity, it's worth noting that the alternative explanations of Jesus' fate are themselves implausible. How, for instance, could Jesus have retired to a normal life making cabinets in south Jerusalem when his followers were going around preaching that he had ascended into heaven? The awkwardness in the synagogue each week - "What are you doing here?" - would have been palpable.
Still, it's hard not to wonder why there has been so much speculation, so many versions of what might have happened to Jesus.
The simple answer, of course, is that the story of Jesus' resurrection itself is hard to accept as a literal fact. It is, on its face, supernatural. It requires belief, the gift of faith. For those who possess such a gift, Easter celebrates the joy and promise of eternal life.
For those of us who come up short, however, and for those who may not consider themselves Christian at all, there is much to learn from and celebrate in the Easter story. It has little to do with idle speculation about what actually happened to Jesus of Nazareth.
It has to do with what the Easter story signifies: the transformative power of love.
Love was, after all, the central teaching of Jesus, what he added to the Ten Commandments: "A new instruction I have given you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must also love one another. All will know that you are my followers by this sign alone, that you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) He didn't stop there, with loving one another. He requires of his followers that they love those who hate them:
"I say to all you who can hear me: Love your enemies, help those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who punches your cheek, offer the other cheek. To one seizing your cloak, do not refuse the tunic under it. Whoever asks, give to him. Whoever seizes, do not resist. Exactly as you wish to be treated, in that way treat others. ... Be not a judge, then, and you will not be judged. Be no executioner, and you will not be executed. Pardon, and you will be pardoned" (Luke 6:27-38).
As the historian Garry Wills points out in his book "What Jesus Meant": "(T)remendous ingenuity has been expended to compromise these uncompromising words. ... The churches' later treatment of the gospels is one long effort to rescue Jesus from his 'extremism.' Jesus consistently opposed violence ... yet thousands, in the Crusades, would take up the sword to protect the site of the Lord's death."
The world has, in fact, never tried to practice what Jesus preached; indeed, those who have come closest, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, have tended to meet a fate similar to Jesus: murder. Perhaps humankind is not yet ready, in an evolutionary sense, to be capable of what Wills calls "self-emptying love." Perhaps we never will be.
Nothing could be clearer, however, than that the development of the capacity for this kind of love may be the only salvation for the world. The stakes in each confrontation are so much higher, and a very few people can potentially kill millions. In Darwinian terms, the next adaptation essential to our survival will not be physical, but moral.
The Easter story, even read as merely myth, speaks to the transformative potential of love in its purest form. God so loved the world that he sent his son to show the way to a humankind plagued with internecine hatred; Jesus so loved humankind that he took upon himself the burden of all of our suffering and showed himself willing to die in the name of that love.
Just as Jesus' teachings regarding love and nonviolence have been compromised over the years, so has the message of Easter. God's act of self-emptying love was transformed into rage against Jesus's own people - the Jews - who were held responsible for his execution. The Holocaust, and the episodes of ethnic cleansing that continue to this day, are the best evidence that, in many respects, we are still not ready for Jesus's message of selfless love.

What would happen to our world if we developed the capability for such a pure form of love? We may never know. But the Easter story feels essentially right. If we achieve it, when fu-ture visitors roll away the stone, they will see nothing in the shaft of light but bodiless shrouds and vacant ossuaries: the tomb of our murderous hatreds, left empty in a world reborn.

John Farmer Jr. wrote this article for the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He can be contacted at

No comments: