Friday Needs Sunday
The cross without the resurrection is a story of power.
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
As Western Christendom entered Eastertide on Sunday, the minds of a post-Christian world naturally turned to the resurrection. On Holy Saturday, Twitter descended into Hell as one Pratik Desai, Ph.D., advised the public to amass audiovisual records of loved ones so that they will someday soon “live with you forever,” personalities simulated in a software program. Eternal life this is not, nor even the undying fame—kléos áphthiton—of Homer and the classical world. In her New York Times newsletter, Tish Harrison Warren discussed the significance of the historical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ with scholar and theologian N.T. Wright; despite what some might prefer, the New Testament and early church cannot be read in their context as claiming the resurrection was just a metaphor. That isn’t an unfair imputation of preference; CNN Opinion featured rival New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman arguing that the gospel of Good Friday and Easter Sunday are different gospels.
Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
A maxim has taken hold among online rightwingers that says the woke are more correct than the mainstream. Ehrman’s essay falls under this saw; he is more right about what the resurrection does to the cross than the moderate attending services on Easter and Christmas, and I for one was glad to see CNN preach the good news of 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 in reverse. The real progressives understand where liberalism has come from and where it is going; they see the map and the territory and choose the left-hand path every time. Ehrman is haunted by the Last Judgment. He writes, “The Christian canon begins with Gospels that record Jesus’ life of self-giving and death for the sake of others and ends with an Apocalypse that describes his powerful destruction of his enemies.” Unwilling to countenance the consequences of Christ’s kingship and godhead (“When I was a committed Christian”), revealed not in the book of Revelation but in rising on the third day, Erhman seeks to introduce a false tension between a human life lived in service unto death on a cross and a divine resurrection unto victorious glory.
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Noted, we should set aside Ehrman’s own journey of faith or nonfaith, and consider his public objection. The gospel of Apocalypse he sees in some celebrations of Easter is “a warrant to use power to harm and destroy others, to acquire masses of wealth in a city of gold and to achieve world domination.” Who preaches this, Ehrman never says, and it is a man of straw to burn with the dross. But it does suggest a target even in its generalities: those who recognize in Christ’s resurrection the sign of his lordship, that he is creator and king of creation—that heavenly and eternal realities have earthly consequences. We might even say political consequences. Ehrman calls last Friday good because it preaches a dying and suffering servant, and that has political consequences, too. But he balks at a risen Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father almighty, from where he will come to judge the living and the dead. For then, as Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian and statesman, said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
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Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
Friday needs Sunday. Without Easter, Jesus is no Christ, but an obscure religious teacher in the ancient near east brutally killed for heresy, and his miracles and ministry would have died with him. With Easter, the Christ reveals himself to be both king and God, and though his kingdom is not of this world, it has broken and continues to break into human history, promising reconciliation both for us and for all creation. The cross without the resurrection is a story of power, and that is a legible and familiar one to our age. Told in terms of a violent state and peaceful rebel, it dresses up a therapeutic transvaluation that makes a virtue of our sins and imperfections. But Easter, as an offering of salvation by a God who so loved the world—and as a promise of a returning Lord—presents an obligation that still offends, still causes resentful man to stumble: It says that nature, our nature, is fallen, and that we need divine grace to perfect it as we look forward to the life to come.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.