I love Easter, truly. But I have been formed in churches that mainly speak of Easter, of the Cross, the crucifixion, and of our sin, of Christ paying the price, appeasing the wrath of God. And in recent years, and during my training for ordination, I think I have come to appreciate that Easter is not an ultimate isolated event, but instead to see the place of Easter in a chain of dramatic events, the different stages in the plan of God for us and his world. I believe some parts of the church overly isolate Easter as the one great saving act, separate from its connectedness to the other acts in the great plan and narrative of God’s redemption, planned from the beginning of the world – and not as a plan B that had to be enacted after the surprise of ‘the fall’!
Instead of that, I see God’s actions as the persistent manifestation of love. First in my recognition of the plan is Creation; the earth, the first garden, and all the fullness of it; then people, made in God’s image, to bless and care for the earth and accessibility to God in the cool of the evening. God’s desire to be in dynamic living connection to his earth and his people. Then the rupture, or growing up, happened – as they knew it would. Temporary responses to that were made in the covenant and the law, in the time of waiting for the plan to unfold.
Then he came! The bold and deliberate move of God, downwards, submerging himself in what he had made; literally inhabiting the body of one made in the image of God. Then the life and ministry of Jesus; there is so much to be learned about God from seeing how his fullness manifest’ itself in human form. What he did, where and with whom. The manner in which he arrived, and the manner in which he lived, all revealing truth and showing us our example and who our Father is. His challenge to power that takes captive and limits life.
Then the death. Killed by jealousy and conformity, power and fear, weakness and apathy. All our worst human qualities. Faith in God compromised and subliminated by the desire to control the lives of others. The amazement that God would endure this death in order to subvert death, to defeat it and show a better way. The paradox of powerlessness and silence as the means of overwhelming human weakness and sin (which so often poses as power), with the ultimate power of love. His request for the Fathers’ forgiveness of us all, knowing that he himself was the means of that forgiveness.
Then days and nights in the dark tomb, spent according to tradition releasing the captives of hell and redeeming souls. Entering darkness itself via the grave, transforming the power of darkness and fear, judgement and death. But all of this as underground action; the hopelessness and defeat above ground among the friends and loved ones of Jesus.
Then resurrection! The irruption of God again into our limited world, again unexpected and shown first to unlikely yet privileged observers. Not shepherds this time but the women, redeemed by being entrusted witnesses of the cataclysmic miracle. God’s continued embrace of the deformed and maimed body, taking to himself the limitation of weakness. His desire to be with his beloveds again, and the offer of hospitality on the beach. His kindly acceptance of the faithlessness of some of his friends.
These actions all bespeak love that cannot be reduced to a legal theory of sin, which to me seems blasphemous and utilitarian, although the truth is that of course sin has lost its power, now death is no longer ultimate.
And what of now? We, the redeemed, living on a redeemed earth in which God again walks in the cool of the evening. A time in which Christ lives and acts in the lives and bodies of those who invite him in. In which we, the church, are his body and theophany – able, with agency via his spirit, to enact his will and transform, making beauty and peace through worship, love and service. So, yes to Easter, of course. To the death that teaches us how to die, to the darkness now lightened by his visitation, and to the resurrected life that sprang back from the dirt of the ground. And to the appearing of the Kingdom in which we now live and address ourselves towards; the scene of his continuing mystery and habitation among us.