I find myself disoriented when it comes to Easter, for it seems like an afterthought to me. It is cool in some circles to say, “Jesus didn’t actually resurrect—it just appeared like he did.” Or, for others, resurrection (and deification) is a fabricated storytelling mechanism that murderers use to justify a brutal and unnecessary sacrifice of the innocent. There is plenty of academic skepticism of the resurrection to go around, and much of it is quite fun—a lot of it is dogmatic garbage, so I’d like to explore my own shifting reaction to the possibility of resurrection.
When Jesus dies, I think there’s a good sense of sacred presence. It’s a moody Good Friday of somber reflection. And Holy Saturday is a liminal day, which means that it is somehow closer to the sacred. In these two days, the concern for the mystical is heightened: God shows a face of violent compassion, and Jesus descends to the depths of hell to defeat death—in this, we are attuned to the silence of an optimistic absence, one in which the lack of proclamation reveals a presence.
Easter Sunday is different. The emptiness of the tomb, an absence, flows into a proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection, after which Jesus is encountered. Easter is a participation in that proclamation, anticipating, maybe eschatologically, the future restoration of all things. The resurrection, then, according to Paul Ricoeur, opens up history to a robust and realistic hope (which is only as serious as we take death: also enacted on Good Friday and Holy Saturday). That is to say, resurrection opens up a closed history to a new creation, beyond mere presence into action engraved in history.
I do not think it is popular to have a theology of joy. Most of my friends, when pressed for their favorite bible book will answer “Job” or “Ecclesiastes” or “Lamentations,” as if God deals entirely in suffering. A lot of fruitful and fun ink has been spilled puzzling over the problem of evil, and a lot of people turn to religion in order to stare suffering in its face. Even more, I have this notion that “real” religion should be suspicious of joy; that it is just an opiate of the masses when it provides any happiness. There is too much suffering for joy, apparently.
But I’m finding that it’s possible to take seriously the suffering of the world and work to proclaim something better. For to assume that suffering is a cyclical and closed book is, well, what forces religious individuals to escape from their own powerlessness into a mystical trance of apathy. But to assume that there is joy to be had, joy as deep as a very real despair and death, is the proclamation of the resurrection. To take this joy seriously—rather than just with a cynical apathy that often becomes its own dogmatism—requires a confrontation with the absence of this joy to constitute, through hope, an alternative. In a sense, we must deal with suffering (witnessed in Good Friday) because we know that there is a hope of resurrection (on Easter Sunday), which we can enact.
I think there are then two things (here) that are important: that the resurrection is a historical event, and that it is the beginning of a theology of serious joy. Both require action, for history is created and shaped in the direction of “new creation” (as opposed, say, to something like “market” or “fate”), and this new creation is one in which joy proclaims the abundance of new life—of which the Christian participates. And so, let it be vogue to proclaim joy, to condition the stillness of sacred experience with the action of the resurrection, and to be renewed according to this stuff.