I greet you this Easter morning from the ritualized belief in the possibility of resurrection, in the ever-present hope in the power of a life force that transcends death, whether in nature or in our spiritual teachings, however your faith and need for hope may direct you.
In terms of the Christian ritual of Easter, each person professing the Christian faith is challenged to reconcile the capstone of the Jesus biblical narrative, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, with a modern skepticism about whether this was possible or just metaphorical. I suspect most of my readers will have some reservations about how literally or faithfully one needs to believe the resurrection narrative in order to establish the primary purpose of the Easter story: to proclaim a belief in the hope and possibility of life after our physical death. Like many others, I assume, I have never fully resolved that challenge.
The question, then, is how important is it to believe in the possibility of life after death? If that question has meaning for us, and we want to believe in life after our mortal death, is it possible to faithfully re-frame the Easter narrative that provides us with a way to hold the hope that we may indeed have some form of spiritual, or even literal, life after we die?
The poignant story of Jesus’ cruel crucifixion grounds the Passion drama in the memory that he is killed trying to transform human ethics by emphasizing a God of compassion and inclusion that transcended privilege and entitlement, whether political, secular or religious. He thus became a dangerous threat to the established powers that be. And like many prophets and revolutionaries throughout history, his message was initially, forcefully rejected.
Jesus’ martyrdom for his cause had a tragic ending for those who had embraced his leadership and his teachings and were committed to the revolutionary social ethics he was promoting. In our own time the assassinations of Archbishop Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi, among others, deflated and frustrated the hopes these leaders embodied while also sowing the seeds of critical change that were planted in the lives of their followers in the years to come. Their powerful example of faithfulness and courage, in other words, outlived their lives.
Jesus’ martyrdom, the successful recording of his teachings, followed by the courage and devotion of those who followed him after he was no longer with them in person, have established the Jesus narrative as it has come down to us as a primary ethical touchstone that has served us as a nonviolence reference for over two thousand years. And although Jesus teachings have been widely interpreted and often shamefully misused, what we need to celebrate is that each time we cite Jesus' messages of compassion and nonviolence, these references again provide an historical “resurrection” of his life and revolutionary teachings that give us hope and faith in our human species, whether we are professing Christians or not.
So we all can indeed celebrate a resurrected Jesus this Easter Day. Whether or not we believe in the bodily resurrection, we can - and perhaps must - believe that the life of Jesus will continue to be resurrected each time we follow his example of radical compassion and inclusion in our personal and public lives.
I love the tradition in Latin America that honors deceased martyrs, courageous leaders, and precious friends with the enthusiastic, fist in the air, declaration of “Presente!” - a message of defiance to a finality of death and an affirmation of hope grounded in honor and love for those whose lives continue to live within us.