If I took a survey and asked people the one word they think sums up Christianity, I imagine I would hear a lot of answers like “Jesus” or “Bible” or “Church.” I might hear “Community” or “Family”. I might receive a few negative responses based on negative experiences such as “Judgemental” or “Privileged” or “Homophobic.” Everyone’s experience of Christianity is different, but what is a word that defines this faith tradition across the board? My answer: Resurrection. For critics of Christianity, resurrection might be perceived as a fairy tale. For followers of Christianity, resurrection can take on a multitude of meanings. For people somewhere in between believer and doubter, resurrection can be an uncomfortable buzz word that sends images of a zombified Jesus rising from the grave. For others, Resurrection is closely tied to the idea of one’s soul journeying to Heaven or Hell after death depending on one’s behavior. Each year, at the end of Lent, I take a moment to pause and consider what resurrection means to me.
I’m going to rule out the zombie theory right away because of one simple fact: the Gospels are pretty clear that Jesus craved bread, wine, figs, and fish… not brains.
The idea of one’s soul traveling to Purgatory and then Hell if one has led a mischievous life bothers me because 1) that concept got spread around long after Jesus was teaching peace and love in the Middle East (thanks, Dante!) and 2) whatever doubts or questions I have about God, I remain steadfast in believing God is altruistic, certainly not an angry old white man with a white beard proclaiming damnation because he didn’t get his way in the morality game.
The other side of the life after death coin is Heaven. Do I believe one’s soul travels to paradise after death? I simply don’t know. I would like to think that my dead grandparents, dead uncle, dead aunt, and dead dog exist in a utopian plane of happiness. However, if I spend my life worried about doing enough good deeds to gain entrance into this paradise, my deceased relatives would grieve over a life that wasn’t worth living, an experience that would deny me my humanity.
My view of resurrection is part of a bigger picture. Jesus lived in a society that viewed violence as the best method to keep everyone in line. On Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem peacefully on a donkey. Occupying Roman soldiers, well-equipped, disciplined killers, had entered the same city as a marching military unit. Their intention was to be seen as a threat to any dissension. Jesus was executed because some called him the king of the Jews, a loud and clear portrayal of dissent. The teachings of Jesus were also a dissension in that those teachings of peace threatened the authority figures whose method of control was violence. If violence is the means by which you keep order, death is the ace in your hand. Death is the ultimate threat, the permanent consequence, the threshold from which there is no turning back.
When I hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection, I am reminded that every act of violence, be it from terrorist tactics rooted in bigotry, national leaders who place coin above compassion, or even a vote to exclude people, can be turned around. I am reminded that death does not stop an ideal nor does it silence the voices that cry out for justice. For me, resurrection is a clarion call that echoes through every broken bridge and broken body three words: here, now, forward.