The Spiritual Landscape
Bad Bunny Theology, or, Saving Easter
The story is told about Peter interviewing three new arrivals in heaven.
Peter, you see, was deeply concerned about religious literacy and he had become convinced that Christians were arriving with little or no knowledge of their faith. Turning to the first of the three new arrivals, he asked, "What does Christmas mean to you?"
The new arrival responded, "Santa comes down the chimney and leaves gifts. We have a big family dinner and we all have fun."
Disappointed, Peter turned to the second arrival, "What can you tell me about Easter?"
"Oh, that's easy," the second arrival responded, "the Easter bunny hides eggs, we have a big family dinner and everyone has fun."
Now, convinced that things were really very bad, Peter turned to the third arrival and said, "Can you tell me anything more about Easter?"
To which the third arrival responded, "It's the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord."
"Go on," Peter said, suddenly encouraged.
Eagerly the new arrival added, "And when Jesus comes out of the tomb, if he sees his shadow, we have three more weeks of basketball."
Easter, or what the Eastern Orthodox tradition calls "The Great Passover," is considered the central celebration of the Christian tradition. But the number of misleading metaphors, cultural accretions, and bad sermons on the subject could leave a stranger to the Christian faith wondering why we celebrate it at all.
I once thought it might be difficult to say something new and helpful year after year about Easter. I now realize that the real problem is finding anything that is faithful to the church's celebration or worth hearing at all. By the time I've waded through bunnies, butterflies, and sermons that use resurrection as a metaphor for breathing life into political causes and programs of self-improvement I am ready for silent retreat.
So, over the next few weeks I'd like to spend a bit of time talking about the spiritual consequences of Easter. After all, we have most of the fifty days of Easter ahead of us. There is still time to unwind a bit of the nonsense and put Peter's mind at ease. This week, Easter truth number one:
The power of death is destroyed and God has been vindicated.
We are confused about the nature of death. We describe it as "natural," as part of a process. I have even heard counselors describe it as a "friend." We don't really believe that, of course. That's why we are in a mad dash to deny death as often and as widely as possible.
You can see it everywhere. From the efforts we make to stay young to the strange promises we make to ourselves medically. We're not afraid of death. No, we just don't want to be there when it happens. (Thank you, Woody Allen.)
Not Paul—not Jesus. For them death is the last enemy. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:12-28. Why? Because death is unpleasant? Because it separates us from those we love? Because it appears to put an end to our life's efforts, pursuits, and relationships?
No. Not really. Those are the symptoms of death, to be sure—the collateral damage, if you will.
No, the real reason that death is the last enemy according to Paul is because death is the final, the last, the big contradiction to the claim that God is the author of life—that God is God.
That may come as a bit of a surprise. We tend to think that the Resurrection is all about us. In fact, we tend to read the whole biblical story with us—with you and me, with humankind—at the center of the story.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/