The Most Unsettling of Holidays Cherie Harder

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

This reflection is an adaptation from an earlier version
we featured nine years ago on April 6, 2012.

While Easter is often celebrated with brunches, egg hunts, and candy trappings, properly understood, it should be the most unsettling of holidays. Its claims are both extravagant and exclusivist; its assertions strange and supernatural: that God, who came to earth as mortal man, was himself killed to atone for the wrongdoing of others, triumphed over death, and made possible a new way of life for those who want to know Him and follow his example.

It is, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, “the strangest story ever told.” The events we commemorate this week – the death of Christ on Good Friday, and his resurrection on Easter – are so vast to comprehend, so freighted with world-altering import, that it is not altogether surprising that some would seek to manage their interpretation, to trim the tale a bit there, render it a little more plausible, and refashion a myth more suitable for the times.

In his fascinating book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of HereticsNew York Times columnist Ross Douthat argues that such conundrums have led “a growing number [to invent] their own versions of what Christianity means, abandoning the nuances of traditional theology in favor of religions that stroke their egos and indulge their worse impulses.” He continued: “Heretics are often stereotyped as wild mystics, but they’re just as likely to be problem solvers and logic choppers, well-intentioned seekers after a more reasonable version of Christian faith than orthodoxy supplies.” Where orthodoxy admits of paradoxes and mysteries, the great heresies have attempted to fashion a more palatable, accessible Jesus – either a more ethereal mystic, or a non-divine moral teacher, or political critic, or simply a model of a more actualized or advanced being – depending on the times and audience.

But the fullness of life, death and resurrection of Jesus – the crux of the Christian faith — flouts all such attempts. If, as Douthat asserts, “The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus” it is a boast that includes paradox and mystery. Showing himself to be both God and man, King and suffering servant, revolutionary and non-political, vulnerable and immortal, subject to birth and death and claiming “I Am,” Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and claims confound the naturalists, materialists, pantheists, and deists alike.

At its core, the Christian belief in Christ’s resurrection defies all natural explanations. It is not, strictly speaking, a reasonable claim, but it does not oppose reason so much as transcend it. Humans did not rise from the dead with any greater frequency in Jesus’ time than in our own; the miracle of resurrection was as astounding then as now. It remains, millennia later, a mystery – one that has outlasted heresies and corruptions, opposition and apathy. And so this Sunday, we will again celebrate the great mystery, the eternal and omnipresent One who became the point on which our hope hangs and history pivots:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

Featured Readings:
As we navigate these uncertain times together, we recommend these Readings
as both an encouragement and catalyst for reflection.