FROM FAITH TO FAITH

The world of Christendom is poised to celebrate the event of Easter.  The substance of the Easter message boils down to this:  that, through the death and resurrection of a Jewish peasant from Nazareth, death itself has been overcome and a qualitatively new reality has dawned upon creation.

This is a message transcending every known paradigm of reason.  It has always confounded the wise, and I dare say always will.  Who Jesus was and is continues, as the great 19th century Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard (on the left) insisted, to present the "possibility of offense."  The master "can debase himself, take a servant's form, suffer, die for men, invite all to come to him, offer up every day of his life, every hour of the day, and offer up his life—but he cannot remove the possibility of offense."

As Christians throughout the world celebrate Easter, homily after homily will seek to remove "the possibility of offense."  If you pay careful attention to your priest or minister, you will discover that he or she will portray the central meaning of Easter in a way that strips it of its "scandalous" character.  They will remind us that "love conquers death," that "nothing is impossible for God," and that "hope enters the human situation in the midst of the darkness of doubt."  Some preachers will even ask "whether Jesus's resurrection matters for you," as if Easter finally concerns the way in which we ourselves internalize it.  All poignant observations as far as they go.

In one sense, I guess, truth is subjective.  Easter presents us with a personal decision to make:  either we can take offense at the various gospel accounts by attempting to "demythologize" the meaning of Christ's resurrection, or we can believe that whatever occurred around 2,000 years ago ushered into being a stark new reality, not only about death, but also about life.

"But," you ask incredulously, "what conceivable virtue is there in believing?"  It is the only way to appropriate the reality of the event.  Can you think of any other way of doing so?  I can't.  The resurrection of Christ is forever a mystery, which faith alone can unfold.  The message is revealed "from faith to faith."

This fact does not diminish Easter's transformative power.  In its shadow, everything takes on new meaning.  Empires come and go, as do civilizations.  Rulers and statesmen pass into oblivion. The profile of an emperor like Augustus Caesar, who found Rome brick and left it marble, fades in prominence with each and every passing day. His empire has long since crumbled.  Even the founders of our own country may years hence be viewed as Enlightenment dreamers.  And why not?  While what happens on this earth is not unimportant, it is fleeting and penultimate.  It is a flash in the pan.  The ultimate truth is the sovereignty of God and of His Christ.  Easter inaugurates a new heaven and a new earth, of which there will be no end.

As the City of Man crumbles around us, the City of God never blinks or falters. Yes, we Christians may, in our celebration of Easter, appeal to one theological bromide after another. We may approach faith through understanding rather than understanding through faith.  On Monday morning, many of us will read the headlines of our daily tabloids and once again sink into a state of despair.  We will toil and spin.  We will harken to addictions, as well as to other pathologies, as if they were old friends. But let us remember that Easter proclaims God has done for humanity what it could not do for itself.  He has given us a reality that is so overwhelming, so cataclysmic, and so new that it requires another gift from Him – faith – simply to affirm it. That is because Easter is a miracle from beginning to end.

I want to believe it.  I struggle to do so.  Wrapped up in this mystery is everything noble and worthwhile.  In its absence, life becomes a kind of existential joke.  I am hoping that this year the power of Easter will capture me as never before . . . and you too. 

God bless us everyone.

April 12, 2009