The Scandal of Easter

Daring to Celebrate Life in the Midst of Death

John 20:1-18; Isaiah 25:6-9

All through holy week the trial of Derek Chauvin who suffocated George Floyd to death has been playing out. As I’ve thought about what if anything I  had to contribute to the ongoing conversation around the trial, police in Chicago apparently decided that running away from them is once again a capital offence instantly punishable by death on the sidewalk. This time, the victim was only 13 years old. 

When I went to pull up the news stories after seeing something about this in my facebook feed, I started by typing in “13-year-old boy.” What comes up first are suggestions for 13-year-old birthday parties, 13-year-old gifts, 13-year-old-boy haircuts. Searches for life, not for death. Where did his mother have to go to find 13-year-old funeral planning suggestions? And how do you grieve the loss of a child executed by the state? 

And then there’s the larger problem of trying to figure out how to talk about resurrection when 550,000 people and counting have died from a virus that could have been better regulated from the start saving most of those people to have more time with their families and loved ones. 

And yet it’s Easter. Far from the pastel-washed, bunny-and-egg extravaganza from the retail ads (and sometimes our church ads too), the first easter holds more comfort for us in the cold stone of a tomb, the scent of spices lingering in the pre-dawn air. I picture fog beginning to burn off as the light changes from gray to gold and Mary, Mary looks up, her tears likewise drying to her cheeks as the warmth of the sun hits her and she sees someone she didn’t expect, and at first doesn’t recognize. 

I love that it’s when he speaks her name, she realizes this is Jesus, her friend and teacher, standing impossibly before her in the flesh even though she saw him die. It’s here in this moment, that the cross can now make sense. Scandalously executed by the state because he was seen as a threat, handed over for that execution by religious leaders who said he was a blasphemer, abandoned by most of his friends and followers because they were afraid they’d be next, Jesus turns all of that on its head by standing outside his own tomb early that morning and commissioned one of his most faithful disciples as the first apostle to go and preach the good news of the resurrection to the rest of his followers. The one deemed least likely by the standards of the day is elevated by the sound of her name and a commission to “go and tell.” 

Returning for a moment to the mechanics of resurrection, it’s been noted that while Lazarus had to be freed from his grave clothes when Jesus called him forth, Jesus seems to have simply phased through his, an idea that is later supported when he appears to his disciples in a locked room. And yet he is still touchable, Thomas is invited to assuage his doubts by touching the wounds of the crucifixion, the marks of which are still on Jesus’ body. 

Our text from Isaiah this morning depicts a feast and a celebration and a day when God wipes the tears from everyone’s faces and death is swallowed up forever. I see the resurrection as standing at a moment in the already-not-yet kingdom of God where this passage in Isaiah is already reality, the rest of us just haven’t lived into it yet. Jesus’ in his resurrected body stands with one foot in this world and one in the world to come, raised to life for all of us to find our life in him. 

And it’s because of this that the meaning of Jesus’ suffering on the cross becomes clear. He entered into suffering on purpose, taking on the systems of injustice, and the weight of oppression for all of humanity for all of time so that the rest of us can go free. So the rest of us can live. Execution by crucifixion wasn’t something to be bragged about. Followers of other insurrectionists put to death in this manner usually left that part out of the lionizing stories told after the fact. Early Christians were ridiculed1 for following the crucified Jesus.

It’s horribly ironic then that the cross has been so misused by the church and by people in power who call themselves Christians. These people use identification with the sufferings of Christ to tell abused women to stay with their husbands, to tell the downtrodden and the poor to stay in their place, to tell the enslaved to not seek their freedom. In this country, the white and the powerful have always been happy to assign identification with the sufferings of Christ to those they wanted to continue oppressing. In a perverse reversal, they have claimed and continue to claim to be Christ-followers without actually following in the footsteps of the Christ that purposefully laid aside his power and took up the yoke of human oppression and injustice all the way to his own execution. As Jurgen Moltmann writes in The Crucified God, “Thus it makes a difference who speaks of this mysticism of the cross, to whom he speaks and in whose interests he speaks. In a world of domination and oppression one must pay close attention to the concrete function of any preaching and any devotion. As ‘opium’ for the people’, produced by those who caused the suffering, this mysticism is a blasphemy, a kind of monstrous product of inhumanity” (p. 49).

In seeing the Jesus who took on suffering, instead of imposing it, who identified with those targeted by state violence all the way to execution, who called out those least expected to be honored and made them messengers of his life, we see our call for this next season clearly laid before us. 

Where do we align our sympathies and our loyalties? Where will we place honor? And will we identify with and enter into as much as possible the suffering of those suffering under systemic oppression? And perhaps more tangibly as we wake up this morning and greet each other with the triumphant “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” and respond with joyful, “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluias” across our churches and facebook pages, what will we do specifically to follow in the footsteps of our risen Savior who calls us into his life, his kingdom, and his upside-down (to our world anyway) priorities when it comes to who is important? 

1

See discussion in Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, pp.559-564.


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Poisoned Bible Project

Is there a text in scripture that just really bothers you? Or worse triggers past trauma because of how it was used against you? All too often I see the effects of Scripture being misused and abused in order to keep certain people in power and heighten the effects of oppression instead of fighting against it.

So I’m starting an interactive project with this community. Each month I will tackle a passage or two of Scripture and reframe it in its context and look at how it fits into the arcs of justice and liberation that we see if we begin to take the Bible as a whole. Then we can discuss these texts as a community in the subscriber-only comment section.

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Camino for Good

I’m walking the Camino de Santiago virtually starting March 1st! The signup fees go to help the hostel owners who have been impacted so badly by the pandemic that some may lose their businesses without some help. I hope to one day walk it in person, but this is a fun challenge for a good cause, and the app is rather robust with pictures of the towns you pass and so forth. Join me! Sign up here.