I have a fellow lecturer at work who was a child preacher of a rather fundamentalist, or evangelical, Christianity. He threw it over as he grew older. As an adult, he is very open, tolerant [in the real sense], and friendly. The students love him, because he is so truly accessible. He is someone who never courts trouble, and never judges. He reacts to diversity with real interest..
I gave him a lift a while back, and we discussed Easter in the car. He told me that even as a child, the thing in the Easter story that moved him was Good Friday. It had ‘pathos’, he said. He still felt that way.. Somehow the Sunday Resurrection is not as moving as the Friday Passion of the Cross.. He is the only person I have met in a long time who shares my feeling about this. He asked me what I reckoned about why this feeling exists in us, because he has not been able to delve it.
I could only share with my friend what has crystallised for me out of this paradox.
Good Friday, and what leads up to it, moves us at the deepest because it addresses the hell we are all in, deep in the heart. Through Christ’s passion, God shares our heartbreak about God, about life, about our futility and dereliction. In our deepest heart hell, we believe the devil has won his wager with God [in the Book of Job]. God takes all this on, rather than remaining above it. It is not sufficient even to be ‘with’ us; Christ must be ‘in’ the same brokenness of heart we are deeply in, ‘down’ in the very ground of the human heart. On the Cross, he declares this going all the way ‘in’ to our hell when he repeats David’s famous cry, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me.’ The hell is starting to bite, at that very moment. His Descent Into Hell completes this journey begun on the Cross.
The problem with the Resurrection of Christ is that it leaves us out. It is ‘his’ Resurrection, not ours. We are not yet in that place he reached, but still in the hell into which he descended, to effect a change there. But this change has not yet happened for us.
Christian Tradition, East and West, has misinterpreted the Resurrection. The idea that it guarantees survival of physical death is not its real meaning, because humankind has had assurances of a Spirit World beyond the physical realm into which people go after death since the beginnings of time. Moreover, the Old Testament also gives assurances of this. The prophet Elijah going in the fiery chariot straight from earth to heaven is one such; but many Jewish commentators point out that when Moses was told the divinity confronting him was the ‘God of the living’, this means that some kind of ongoing ‘aliveness’ in God is more ultimate than the grave.
Even if we say Christ’s Resurrection ‘proves’ these old ‘intimations of immortality’, that still misses something vital.
The Greeks love the Resurrection largely for pagan reasons= it exemplifies their ancient love of Life in battle with Death, and Life triumphant over Death. Their ‘Zorba’ tendency.. Zorba the Greek embraces life with both hands, and faces death in the same indomitable way– he dies standing up, accepting and defying death in one life-affirming gesture. That feeling and motif of life-affirmation is old in Greek culture, and the Resurrection carries it. The ‘sting’, the ‘pangs’, of death are overcome by the Resurrection.
However, there is a more Jewish understanding of Christ’s Resurrection. It’s what came to me as I was discussing it in the car with my friend.
The Messiah, in the Cross and Descent into Hell, reforges the connection with God in the very place where it is most broken. This place is the deep heart.
Reforging the link to God in the place where it is most broken means restoring to humanity our passion, and rendering our passion no longer stopped by suffering, nor intimidated by death.
The message to our ruined heart passion is, if you follow Christ, and become a Christ, then like him your suffering and death will not extinguish your flame, but will plant it as a seed in the depth of the world.
You will burn bright after the suffering and death that comes to all those who trust heart passion, and live by it; and sparks like seeds planted in the ground will remain in the world, to go on growing and transfiguring everything, after you are gone.
What is lost and frozen in despair in us, deeper even than all the guilt and shame of sin, is our calling to redeem the world.
We are Resurrected to become God’s organ of fire in the world.
Thus, as the Cross is in time, so the Resurrection is in time. The Resurrection inaugurates and is the beginning of a new age, a new time. In Hebrew, one of the names of the Messiah is ‘dawn.’