Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Gentle Power of Easter

The life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are both an historical reality and a profound mystery. Much about the details of his life are simply lost to history. They were not recorded and not remembered. Specific incidents and statements were recalled by his followers, certainly topped by the mere fact of his resurrection (which they clearly never expected to really occur). But the vast majority of his life experiences are not available to be covered by a biopic on the History Channel, and he is not available for a sit-down interview with the latest TV personality. Try as we might, details are lacking.

Some may wish to know, for example, how he spent his early youth and what he was doing during his twenties. Others might be interested in finding out what it was like to be part of the crowd that listened to him speak, whether in a synagogue, on a noisy hillside covered with people, or next to a lakeshore as he preached from a boat anchored a little way off. Did he shout, sing, laugh, or tease? What was it like to walk with him on the road. (He did a lot of walking.) Was he happy, morose, serious, relaxed, or driven? Could he “connect” to people easily or was he relatively distant, despite his really good stories?

It’s good to acknowledge these sorts of curiosities, because they are the ones that shape our contemporary mode of preferred knowledge about individuals. We would like to know personal details because personal details bring someone closer to us, apparently, than if they were “merely” an historical figure who is vaguely known and vaguely remembered. And this would probably be true almost all historical personalities outside of our immediate experience.

The difference in the case of Jesus, it seems to me, is the impossibly consistent unity of perspective and content regarding who he was and what he did. Except for easily debunked outliers who give a quaint but strange picture of what Jesus “must have been like” or “probably did and said”, the vast bulk of written works about his life (e.g., Scripture scholars), his thought (e.g., theologians of all stripes), and his impact (e.g., all serious Christians) are remarkable consistent and uniquely impressive. Here was someone who in three years, or perhaps longer, was able to launch a movement that changed the world, and it was a movement whose substance centered around himself. For anyone else, such a thing would be ultimately empty, practically unsustainable, and more than a bit suspect. Yet in the case of Jesus, his followers, his message, his remembered and recorded words and actions, his very real and living spirit evident in those who unite their words and actions with him, and his daily transformative effect on real people who look to him for guidance and sustenance; these are all things that remain as miraculous and transformative as the apostles standing on the rooftops at Pentecost proclaiming the Gospel to the multi-lingual multitudes below them. Each Christian’s story is unique. Each Christian’s story is a very real and alive thing. Each Christian’s story is profoundly personal (potentially), for whom a whole new world stands open to be encountered. Each Christian is to be another Christ.

Therefore, during this Holy Week it is good to “see the point” of what we celebrate, recall, and make present. It is good to enter into the depths of what we find ourselves called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. And it is good to make our own the resurrection that gives life itself its transformative potential.