Sunday, April 15, 2012

"He is Risen In Dead" - Why the Resurrection Still Matters the Week(s) After Easter Sunday

A week after Resurrection Sunday, I find myself thinking about death. I know that Easter is supposed to put death behind me and help me think about pretty things like tulips and white linens, but I just can't help but think about the complications of believing that God both died and then defeated death through resurrection.

Along with millions of others last Sunday, I participated in that historic call and response: "The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!"  Only I botched it up big time. Instead of the typical response, I said, "He is risen in-dead."  Seriously, I'm not just making this up for an anecdote; just ask my fiance who gave me a strange look as the word escaped. The people around me heard me say it! It was embarrassing.

"He is risen in-dead."  Ever since that I have been pondering what it might mean to say that not only is Christ risen indeed, but He is risen "in dead."  

I know that Easter is all about celebrating God's victory over death, but I'm not exactly sure what that means.  If I understand Easter correctly, then God defeats death through death (and resurrection, of course).  Not exactly a cut and dry solution. Would that be like quitting smoking by smoking? Doesn't make sense.

What's even more confusing is that the resurrected Jesus bears the scars of his death. What's this all about? One would think that the God who defeats death would be "shiny and new," bearing no marks of the old reality of death. It would be like rubbing it in the face of death: "You can't touch me!"  But this is not the case for Jesus.  The One who defeats death bears the scars of death. 

This is why the phrase "He is risen in-dead" haunted me all week.  I don't mean that Jesus is a zombie or a ghost of a man because he is somehow still dead. No, the phrase simply suggests that death is somehow still a part of Jesus' being (and therefore God's being). Jesus may be risen, but his history in death is risen in him as well. The marks of the cross are forever a part Jesus, the Son. So maybe it makes sense to say that Jesus is risen "in-dead," insofar as Jesus bears the scars of death and is raised after death. If you think about it, resurrection is only possible after death. If Jesus had not died, he could not have been raised.  So perhaps death is an integral part of the Easter miracle and should not be forgotten in the midst of Easter jubilation or afterward.

I realize that associating the resurrected Jesus with death seems strange, but I think that this is the miracle of Easter. What kind of God is this? A God who does not defeat death by avoiding it, nor by overpowering it, but by surrendering to it and taking death up into God's own being. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that in death "God agrees to be involved in something that is not the divine will, and from now on death must serve God despite itself." (from A Testament to Freedom, 454-55)

How amazing is this!?  The Easter weekend miracle is not that Jesus "came down" to deal with death and then "went back up" to reign forever.  The Easter miracle is that God in Christ has taken up death into Godself!  "Death has been swallowed up" by the indefatigable love of God! (1 Cor. 15:54)  It is as David wrote in his song, "If I go down to the place of the dead, you are there!" (Psalm 139:8) 

The Easter miracle is not that Christ did something for us (though there is truth in this expression). The miracle is that Christ does something with us: Jesus goes with us into death and will forever be with us "in-dead." Here Jurgen Moltmann explains: "[God] humbles himself [sic] and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and godforsaken, so that all the godless and godforsaken can experience communion with him." (The Crucified God, 276)

Again: "It is not that through the representative work of Christ men are relieved of something of their needs, but that Christ experiences a hell of rejection and loneliness on the cross which need no longer be suffered by believers in this way... Christ experiences death and hell in solitude. His followers experience it in his company. That is no substitution, but a liberation." (Moltmann, 263, italics added)

The victory of Christ's resurrection does not rid history of death altogether, but transforms death into the victory of God through the suffering love of Christ. It takes away the sting of death's godforsakenness. Paul does not imagine that death is over and done with, but rather asks, "Where O death is thy sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55).  

The idea that Jesus is raised "in-dead" reminds me that Easter is not about avoiding or repressing thoughts about death. It is about embracing "death in God," as Moltmann puts it.  Easter empowers us to look death in the face and know that God is there with us. Peter Rollins explains the power of the resurrection similarly: 

"We must read Resurrection in its full radicality: as the state of being in which one is able to embrace the cold embrace of the Cross. If the Crucifixion marks the moment of darkness, then Resurrection is the very act of living fully into this darkness and saying 'Yes' to it. The faith that is born in Resurrection does not enable us to escape these deeply troubling anxieties, it provides the power to face up to them." (from Insurrection, 112)

This is why I believe Jesus' resurrection matters a week - and every week - after Easter Sunday. The resurrection of the One who bears the marks of the cross is nothing less than the evidence that "nothing is able to separate us from the love of God," not even death.

What does this do for those who believe by faith? I believe that it grants the power to see the world as it truly is rather than how we want it to be. It is the power to embrace our humanity - our finitude, weakness, and mortality. The power of the resurrection liberates us from the spell of the super-ego which leads to trivial self-protection and idol-making. The resurrection is the power to take up suffering in love.  In doing this, I believe that we participate in the very life of the God whose heart is found in the resurrection of the crucified Christ.

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