Monday, April 21, 2014

N.T. Wright: Stop trivializing Easter

A gem by N.T. Wright, written a few years back but still quite timely.
The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn't defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon - He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.

Let's be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St Paul speaks of a “spiritual” resurrection body, he doesn't mean “non-material”, like a ghost. “Spiritual” is the sort of Greek word that tells you,not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God's life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect - and in the whole world.

Now, suddenly, the real meaning of Easter comes into view, as well as the real reason why it has been trivialised and sidelined. Easter is about a new creation that has already begun. God is remaking His world, challenging all the other powers that think that is their job. The rich, wise order of creation and its glorious, abundant beauty are reaffirmed on the other side of the thing that always threatens justice and beauty - death. Christianity's critics have always sneered that nothing has changed. But everything has. The world is a different place.

Easter has been sidelined because this message doesn't fit our prevailing world view. For at least 200 years the West has lived on the dream that we can bring justice and beauty to the world all by ourselves.

The split between God and the “real” world has produced a public life that lurches between anarchy and tyranny, and an aesthetic that swings dramatically between sentimentalism and brutalism. But we still want to do things our own way, even though we laugh at politicians who claim to be saving the world, and artists who claim “inspiration” when they put cows in formaldehyde.

The world wants to hush up the real meaning of Easter. Death is the final weapon of the tyrant or, for that matter, the anarchist, and resurrection indicates that this weapon doesn't have the last word. When the Church begins to work with Easter energy on the twin tasks of justice and beauty, we may find that it can face down the sneers of sceptics, and speak once more of Jesus in a way that will be heard.