Anne Lamott retells a classic Hasidic story that has stuck in my mind. It is about a rabbi who always told his people "that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts." One of the rabbi's people asked him, "Why on our hearts, and not in them?" He answered, "Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside."(1) Lamott's comments remind me of Leonard Cohen's wise observation that the light gets into our lives through the cracks in them.
So what does this have to do with Easter?
There is a version of Easter that, frankly, leaves me cold and untouched. It is Easter without Good Friday. It is an empty tomb celebrated, but without a crucified body mourned. It is celebration, but without broken hearts. And I have never found this version of Easter convincing. It is altogether too disembodied, too abstract, too ethereal, and, therefore, too ephemeral to get under my skin. It feels like a massive denial, as though the whole Christian church is averting its eyes from something we would rather not see.
Easter without Good Friday is also remarkably unlike the first Easter in the Gospels in which a group of people knew Jesus' shattered, broken and lifeless body had been laid in a grave, in which they experienced the utter loss of all their hopes in light of his death, and in which they cowered in fear. In the Gospels, when the news came fresh from Jesus' grave that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty, these first disciples were stunned, disbelieving, shocked and disoriented. They were slow to believe because they knew what they had witnessed, and it was the death of Jesus.
When the disciples come face to face with the risen Jesus (John 20:19-31), they discover something somehow just as startling as a risen Jesus. They discover that the risen Jesus is wounded. The risen Jesus carries the scars of crucifixion. Easter does not erase, deny or gloss over all that broke Jesus and placed him in a tomb. Those scars never disappeared. In this proclamation, we should hear the Good News of the Gospel, the Good News of a full-bodied resurrection. This has tremendous implications for our hope as Christians.
The future redemption for which we long, and to which Easter bears witness, is redemption as human beings, not redemption from our humanity. It is resurrection of the body, not liberation of the spirit from a fleshly prison house. It is salvation from alienation and division to a way of being that is inconceivable to us as we now are, yet that is revealed to us in the risen Christ who took our flesh (broken body and spilled blood) into the very being of God. Our humanity resides there now in the being of God through the risen Jesus Christ, who has prepared a place for us in the heart of God.
We cannot get to this Good News without entering into the surprising and strange teaching of the resurrection of the flesh. And it is a strange teaching, indeed.
I remember a conversation my daughter, Jessica, and I had when she was a very little girl. It was about heaven.
Jessica and I were riding along in the car when she asked me the question, "Will we eat in heaven?"
I told her that I am not really sure that we will eat food in heaven. Our nourishment will come (I suspect) in some other way. Maybe we will be nourished somehow directly by the God on whom we depend for our very being. I mentioned something about Jesus after his resurrection having a body, but a different sort of body, a spiritual body, a body that bore the scars of his suffering, that was able to be touched, and was able to consume food. But, I said, I'm not sure that food was necessary to his risen life in the way that food is necessary to our present existence.
She listened patiently as I rambled on.
When I was finished, she furrowed her brow a little, twisted her mouth to one side, and shook her head. Then she said, "So we probably aren't going to eat food in heaven?"
"Well, no. I don't think so," I said.
She sighed and said, "Okay. But it's going to take a couple of weeks to get used to."
I think she's right. It is going to take at least a couple of weeks. Maybe a couple of millennia.
The fact that Christians believe in the resurrection of the body (not simply in the immortality of the soul), though it creates some interesting conundrums like the one that puzzled Jessica, speaks to the deep mystery of our faith in the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. As Easter approaches, I want to encourage us to hear the Good News that makes very little sense at all if it is divorced from the flesh-and-blood reality in which we are living.
An Easter in isolation from Holy Week and Good Friday has very little meaning for the Christian faith. Indeed, Easter in isolation from the Passion of Christ can represent such a distortion of the Christian message as to render it false.
Lesslie Newbigin once observed that the resurrection of Christ is not the reversal of a failure, but the proclamation of a victory.(2) The Christian teaching of the resurrection of the dead in Christ announces God's redemptive goal for all humanity, a goal that decisively counters the ways and means of all the fallen worldly principalities and powers whose might rests on their ability to coerce through intimidation and to enforce their ways on pain of death. Christ reigned over all creation from the cross. When Christ was raised from the dead, God placed His stamp of approval on the life that Jesus lived which led to that cross. The scars which Jesus Christ's risen body bore are signs of the victory he achieved, not lingering symbols of a defeat he suffered.
There truly is no Easter without Good Friday, and not for any of us.
So, this Easter, I hope we will "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the Gospel stories of the death and resurrection of Jesus so that these sacred texts are on our hearts.
That way, when our hearts break, the holy words will fall inside. "That's how the light gets in."(3)
1Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 73.
2Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (London: SPCK, 1986), 127.
3Leonard Cohen, "Anthem," written by Shanna Crooks, Mike Strange and Leonard Cohen. Copyright: Shanna Crooks Songs/ATV Songs LLC, Stranger Music Inc.