I have a friend who is pretty tough when it comes to her opinions about Christians, partly because she grew up in a very repressive Christian tradition that justified all kinds of abuse and nonsense in the name of the Bible.
As a result, she takes every opportunity to call out any manner of violence or ridiculousness that is perpetrated in the name of religious faith. As a person of faith, I am chagrined to acknowledge that she is drawing from a well that will never run dry and that I usually find her criticisms to be more in keeping with my Christian faith than those of the religious folks she is criticizing.
I did have to draw a line, though, when she once referred to Easter as “the Zombie Apocalypse, starring Jesus.”
Oh, no doubt it was funny. And it seems kind of like a hip way of being snarky, with all of the “walking dead” fascination on television and zombie fun that one can have. In fact, one of my favorite eateries when I visit Des Moines is Zombie Burger. So, the zombie reference itself gets a pass, but her implied criticism that Easter is just a silly wish fulfillment of those who will believe in practically anything does not.
There may be a lot of silliness and insincerity around the practice of celebrating Easter, but the message of the Easter story itself is far more than a religious selling point. It is a way of expressing the central belief, whether it is expressed cynically or sadly, that life is tragic, but not ultimately so.
Briefly stated, the story leading up to Easter, the story of the “crucifixion,” tells how Jesus was condemned to death, falsely accused of religious blasphemy and political rebellion. It is an all-too-familiar tragedy of hubris on behalf of the powerful and suffering on behalf of the innocent.
We’ve seen that tragedy time and time again when repressive authoritarian regimes cook up justifications for killing discontented peasants. We’ve seen that story when gay men are assumed to be child molesters, to justify others’ intolerance. We’ve seen that story when African American young men get treated as if they are inherently threatening or Islamists are treated as if they are all terrorists or assaulted women are assumed to be “asking for it.”
The tragic storyline that we’ve all grown accustomed to is that money talks, power wins and anyone who pretends otherwise needs to “get real.”
But the story of Jesus does not end with his tragic death. The stories of the “resurrection” are Jesus’ followers’ way of saying that Jesus was not just a fading memory of a religious martyr to them. In fact, Jesus’ followers actually experienced his presence more after his death than before.
Teachings that left them puzzled before his death became their way of life after his resurrection. Courage that evaded them before his death gave them the power to be martyrs themselves after his resurrection. The way Jesus actually embodied the presence of God was how they came to express the “spirit” in them after the resurrection.
And the reign of God: Jesus always said it was present among them, but they could never quite accept that reality in a world dominated by the Roman Empire. After the resurrection, the reign of God became their way of living. The resurrection is not a story of a mad-eyed zombie, stalking the earth to spread death. It is a story of life that ultimately overcomes the tragedy that we’ve all been taught to recognize as real life.
This Easter, whether you are a religious person or not, I invite you to talk about resurrection. If you are one who has failed again and again to overcome addiction, resurrection says, “Life is worth trying again.”
If you are an LBGTQ person, facing rejection and ridicule, resurrection says, “It gets better.”
If you are someone who has played the game for so long that you cannot even imagine life beyond the charade, resurrection says, “Only when a seed falls into the ground and dies can it bear great fruit.”
In the end, resurrection is not about the walking dead; it is about those who have found new life.
MARK DAVIS is the pastor of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach.