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Living the Resurrection

2009 March 31
by Julie Clawson

At church on Sunday, Bob Carlton brought up an interesting point – as Christians we tend to focus more on the crucifixion than we do the Ressurection. We have numerous theories (and debates) about atonement, we observe the Stations of the Cross, we watch movies detailing the violent death of Jesus – but give little attention to the Resurrection apart from asserting that it happened. This, of course, begged the question of “why?” Why do we fail to remember the Resurrection? Why don’t we re-enact it like we do Christ’s death? Why are we more fixated on death than life? There were a number of fascinating explanations suggested – that we feel the need to live in a story with a known climax, that we understand violence but not mystery… – but a couple things occurred to me during the discussion.

First – that as the church we haven’t always been so divorced from the practice of celebrating Resurrection. In the pre-industrial world people were much more attuned to the fading and returning of life in the unfolding of the seasons. Their feast days (which our Christian holy days attempt to co-opt) marked the turning points of the seasons – solstice, equinox, solstice – in an endless ritual. Each year the world enacted the play of death and resurrection as winter crept in and stole life and light away and then summer brought everything back to life again. But this wasn’t just a ritual – it was life. Marking and understanding this cycle meant the difference between life and death. One had to know when to plant and when to harvest and how much to store up against winter starvation. Life was cherished, and light as the harbinger of life revered. But we’ve lost that in the modern world. In our wired and climate-controlled homes we have little need to mark the passing of seasons except for how they effect our comfort. We know we can go to any store and buy produce no matter the season. We have disconnected ourselves from the cycle – living in an artificial (and unsustainable) now. We have little need to yearn for or celebrate the return of life to the earth. We take that life for granted and so have gotten out of the habit of practicing resurrection.

I believe this falling into the habit of remembering the death and not the life has marred our faith. The resurrection stands for hope – for remembering that good does win. The resurrection ushers in the Kingdom, calling us to live in that hope by following in the way of Christ. The resurrection encourages us to spread that hope – doing good, righting wrongs, caring for others. But instead we dwell simply on the death. We see less hope and possibility for improvement and instead see depravity. We make the death about us – how it serves us, how it defines us. Not that those questions are invalid, but to solely focus on them leads to a highly imbalanced faith. Our faith becomes about endings rather than beginnings. We can’t break free of the eternal now that is but a pseudo-life and embrace the return of the light. I think we can learn from the cultures that marked the passing of the seasons – even on the darkest day when it looked like death may have won the people are not called to mourn or to remain in darkness. No, they light a bonfire and chase away that very darkness asserting that the light will return and with it the life that sustains.

So I wonder what it will take for us to do more than utter a few “He is risen indeeds” on Easter and to choose to live in the Resurrection. To refrain from dwelling in despair and darkness and to affirm life instead. To live in the hope of the resurrection – choosing to bring life into the world.

At least that is what I am asking myself as I prepare for Holy Week.


10 Responses leave one →
  1. Karl permalink
    March 31, 2009

    The apostle Paul sure got it (1 Cor. 15). And, we do have this day called Easter to celebrate the resurrection, that is a pretty big deal in most Christian circles.

    But in between Easters I agree most Christians spend more time thinking about the crucifixion than the resurrection. I don’t think the answer is to downplay the importance and implications of the crucifixion – the reality of sin, death, suffering, evil – but rather to also emphasize the resurrection as the final word and the source of our hope. Neither makes much sense without the other, both are essential parts of the story by which we are to shape our lives. Interesting thoughts.

    I like the way the Orthodox observe the whole season culminating in a powerful celebration of the resurrection:

    Also, a description from Frederica that again makes me think the Orthodox “get” Easter and resurrection better than most Protestants:

    “My calendar is penciled with eleven services in the last eight days before Pascha [Easter]. Pascha itself is a six-hour event composed of several exuberant services with boisterous feasting and champagne in the middle.”

  2. Kristen permalink
    March 31, 2009

    I think there’s a lot to be said for recovering the liturgical calendar. I remember when I was little, Sister Marie said that Lent was forty days and Easter is fifty. They’re both tremendously important but we party more than we fast.

    So often in Evangelical circles I feel like except on Easter Sunday itself we’re ALWAYS in Lent. Drives me bonkers. The liturgical calendar creates a different rhythm. There are seasons of fasting (Advent, Lent) and seasons of feasting (Christmas, Easter) and seasons of just settling in and being (Ordinary Time). It’s a good pattern.

  3. March 31, 2009

    An interesting observation. I wonder if it’s more a denominational thing. In my Presbyterian polity class, the professor was specifically talking about the criticism (of some against Presbyterians) that we “ignore” the crucifixion and move too quickly to the resurrection….

    Food for thought, either way….

  4. March 31, 2009

    I think it very much does vary by church tradition. And those churches that observe the church year do have the potential to be much more attuned than others.

    Easter too varies my tradition. I never went to church on Easter growing up – and we were very devout. my parents just mentioned that they will be going to church on easter this year for the first time since 1983 – we would just always travel to the family farm and be with family. I’ve even been a part of churches that did nothing on easter – they didn’t even acknowledge that the day existed, just simply continued on with their sermon series.

    and too often on Easter the sermons I’ve heard have all been about proving the resurrection as a means of imposing our right belief on others. nothing about celebrating life or choosing to affirm life by caring for others. A good portion of the time the eggs and bunny part is the most life affirming part of the day.

    I just wish I could see more. and yes, that is perhaps simply my own experience, but that’s what I’m speaking from.

  5. Scott M permalink
    April 1, 2009

    This is actually what has captivated me about the Orthodox Church. The Resurrection has always been a core (along with the Incarnation) of what has drawn me ever deeper into Christianity. N.T. Wright certainly gets it. But the Orthodox seem to carry this through and through. I keep listening and it never seems to end.

  6. April 2, 2009

    I think a lot of the emphasis on the Crucifixion over the Resurrection in Protestant circles at least comes from our over-emphasis on the satisfaction/penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. When that one particular way of understanding Christ’s work is elevated as the central, and often exclusive definition of the gospel, then the resurrection does in fact become marginalized. In my systematic theology class last semester we talked about how Abelard’s Moral Exemplar theory emphasized the life of Christ, Anselm’s Satisfaction theory emphasized his death, and the early church’s Christus Victor theory emphasized his resurrection. So when later Protestants reduce the heart of gospel down to just the middle one (redefined in terms of penal substitution), it’s no wonder that we end up fixating on death rather than life.

  7. April 3, 2009

    Hope is a very important for me, so I do tend to emphasize resurrection over crucifixion.

  8. Phil Anthony permalink
    April 6, 2009

    Thanks for thy comment, Mike Clawson – it keeps me from having to write it. I think there’s another aspect to it as well. If Christ’s work is seen as God’s overcoming the Principalities and the Powers, with death being the final one, then the events of Holy Week become a unity: triumph, paradoxically, through weakness; victory through defeat; the wisdom of the world overcome by the foolishness of God. Paul is quite eloquent about it in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians.

  9. Jade Gary permalink
    April 15, 2009

    The resurrecetion is the third day, when Jesus Christ rose. I believe you should talk about the resurrection and the crucifixion. They both tie in together. Without the crucifixion, there wouldn’t be a resurrection! In John chapters 25-26, Jesus says if you believe in him, you shall never die! You shal rise again!

  10. April 15, 2009

    I come from a liturgically-oriented tradition where we observe Holy Week and thus give enormous weight to each part of the redemption story – Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry, Maundy Thursday and Jesus’ mandate of love, Good Friday and Jesus’ real death, Easter Vigil (Saturday night) and the recounting of our salvation history, and Easter and Jesus’ real resurrection.

    For me, I have to let Good Friday stand by itself, and keep myself from rushing to Easter. I have to spend some time in that place of real death in order to prepare myself to experience the joy of real resurrection. But for me, Good Friday is less about wallowing in my own sin and death (I’ve done plenty of that in Lent!), and more about taking comfort in knowing that I can rely on God in my own sufferings, because God himself has suffered. It reminds me that Jesus was not just “partially” incarnate, but that he truly became man, and entered fully into the human experience, even unto death.

    I think that there is greater meaning to giving Good Friday its full weight than just making Christians feel guilty about their sin, or telling them that they killed Jesus or anything like that. I think that the reality of Jesus’ death can, paradoxically, be an enormous source of hope that prepares us, then, for the movement from darkeness into light, from death into life, from the cross to the empty tomb.

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