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Sunday, April 04, 2010

In Defense of the Easter Bunny - Sort Of

Over the last few days I have had either my first bad cold in years or my first allergic reaction to pollen in my life. Because my eyes are swollen and burning I think it’s the pollen. So, to spare my neighbors my sneezing and coughing and dripping I am sitting this Easter Sunday out.

But about Easter: the bodily resurrection of Jesus is at the very core of the New Testament revelation and the Christian message. “Going to heaven when we die” is all the rage but really isn’t what Easter is all about. Easter is all about “Jesus is Lord.” He has risen from the dead and he sits at God’s right hand and is the living Lord of heaven and earth. He is not risen as some sort of disembodied spirit but as a human being with a real human body. And yet he also as God the Son is very God of very God and upholds all things by the word of His power. Yeah, heady stuff that…

The Christian faith is centered on the BODILY resurrection of Jesus. It is the central reality of his bodily resurrection that reveals that God who is Spirit has truly broken into the world of human life and history and is now connected to it forever. Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the central sign of this world-changing in-breaking of God and His kingdom into our world in order to fulfill His purposes for His creation.

Popular American religion believes that every person who dies goes to a better place. This incipient universalism is no part of the Christian message. It is not creation-affirming but creation-denying. It is also not Jesus-affirming but Jesus-denying, no matter how it is dressed up.

This belief has always made funerals very tricky because everyone wants so much to believe that Uncle Frank has gone off to a better place. Perhaps Uncle Frank has, perhaps not. But where do we get this notion that there is this better place to which Uncle Frank’s spirit gets to go? Oddly, we really don’t get it from Christianity though it is sure dressed in Christian language.

The truth is we have no reason whatsoever to believe that there is a “place” called “heaven” to which we get to go when we die, unless, that is, the bodily resurrection of Jesus really happened. And if Jesus’ resurrection really happened then we have to base our understanding of the fate of our earth and of our bodies and spirits upon His teaching both before and after His resurrection.

Behind the very obvious good news of Easter is the uncomfortable news that Jesus of Nazareth really has risen from the dead and is now King and Lord and judge over all. Yes, over and over in the New Testament Jesus is presented as the judge who is coming back to set things right and bring His Father’s purposes for creation to final completion.

This kind of sucks for us if we don’t really believe that Jesus is Lord and Judge and Messiah.

Here’s the deal. Going to heaven isn’t the deal. Yes, being with Jesus in spirit/soul until the general resurrection is way much better than not being with Him, and it is better than being here in the midst of pain and trial and grief. But that isn’t the goal. The goal or end game is a renewed heaven and earth – a New Heaven and New Earth which is physical and bodily and fleshly. The ONLY connection we have to the possible reality of a New Heaven and New Earth where there will be no tears and where God will dwell most intimately with men and women and all creation is, well, Jesus’ physical/bodily resurrection. That’s it. Because of this connection our only hope of New Heaven and New Earth is Jesus.

The idea of living some permanent blissful disembodied existence for all pretty-nice people (or even scoundrels with “good hearts” and so forth) is not a Christian one. It’s not part of the Christian proclamation. Read all the sermons in Acts – you won't find it there. Read all the teachings of Jesus. You won’t find it there either. Read the letters – you’re right – not there.

I have no idea why so many people who don’t otherwise give Jesus the time of day would want to go to church on Easter. Easter ought to scare the bageebies out of people. I can see why people would flock to Christmas services, you know, God with us, little baby Jesus and all. But Easter – no way. Jesus is the resurrection and the life - for people who believe in and trust in Him as the resurrection and the life. The New Testament witness is that he will return to wrap up his purpose for creation, and how we have responded to him and to those who are His followers will determine whether we are sheep or goats. It’s serious stuff.

But then there is that whole Easter Bunny/Spring Equinox/Fertility thing. I know some of you who have managed to read all this now expect me to distance myself as far as possible from pagan/fertility ideas. But I’m not going to really. There is a connection between real Easter and those Spring pagan fertility rites.

You see, the pagan fertility rites are right about something: the creation does matter, including fertility and how little bunnies get made. Many people are flocking to pagan spirituality because Christendom has for so long dismissed the significance of real world physicality. In fact, it is NOT dying and going to “heaven” that is the goal of the Christian message. Rather it is that Jesus Christ who is Lord and King sitting on his glorious throne surrounded by worshipping angels and elders and creatures of heaven – that this Jesus will come and restore the Earth to its glory and populate it with people resurrected with real new physical bodies perfectly fitting for this New Heaven and Earth.

I have noticed something about myself lately. There have been days in my life when I just wanted a meteor to hit me right on the head and obliterate me, such as in the middle of a really really bad migraine. I am not exaggerating at all. And there have been times of grief or psychic pain when I really would have been happy to depart for the other side. Unrelenting pain – physical or psychic - does this.

But mostly now, when I am about my life, awake, and not so miserable, I find that I live in this amazing “in between” of new and old. I feel so at home in God’s creation. Birds and bees and flowers and trees bring to me tears of joy. I know deep down that as the Earth is "renewed" there will still be an Earth, with (I think), all sorts of familiar earthly things – like the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. Since I know I will rejoice in these things then – later – I can easily rejoice in them now, which gets me back to the Easter bunny. Resurrection does in fact affirm and signify the fundamental goodness and beauty of God’s creation. It affirms bunnies. It affirms sex – animal sex and plant sex. It affirms bounty and fruitfulness and multiplying. It affirms play. My fellow Christians, let’s not drive people to paganism by leaving God’s good and bountiful earth in the dust, OK?

And one more thing: though the idea of Jesus rising from the dead and now seated at God’s right hand “from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead” should sober us up like a cold glass of water in the face, well, there was Good Friday. Jesus who is risen and enthroned at God’s right hand not only is enthroned as a man with a body, but is enthroned as a Lamb, a sacrificial Lamb, and who yet still bears the marks of his sacrificial death. And with these nail pierced arms wide open, He says to us “Come unto me.”

We are all invited to the party. Our Creator has seen to it to reverse our great mistake as a species made in His image, and to rescue us from ourselves. Jesus who is coming back as judge is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, And He can take away your sins too, if you will attach yourself to Him in belief and trust. Though is plenty that is scary about Easter, it’s not all scary; before Sunday there was Friday - and Jesus on His heavenly throne with the marks of death in his hands and side and feet.

Some day someone is going to do your funeral. Don’t make them have to avoid the uncomfortable possible truth that you never gave yourself to Jesus. He is alive. He is Lord, He has born your sins. Trust him. Put your whole self, body and soul, under His care. He will take you home, not to float around as a spirit for all eternity, but to run and jump and skip about in unbelievable joy around the New Heaven and New Earth. Let this Easter be your Easter.

1 comment:

JB said...

Thanks for this post. I've been thinking about it ever since I read it. I've been so busy being "spiritual" lately that I needed a reminder that incarnational living IS really, for the most part, what Christianity is about. God "wanted" to be human, and wants us to keep the plot moving. Pentecost is probably the best reminder that it isn't "either/or" but both--body and holy spirit.