Opinion: The Unsettling Truth About Easter

by Maura Hearden, Ph.D. | Mar 31, 2013

Please note: This editorial first appeared in the online edition of The Morning Call on Saturday, March 30, and in print on Sunday, March 31.

Christ is risen!  For most twenty-first-century American Christians, these words produce an emotional response roughly equivalent to that produced by the words “Dinner is served.”  Isn’t that nice.  Easter is a cheerful, happy time.  Spring weather is around the corner (we hope!) and the world is filled with pastels and chocolate. 

Many will take time out from Easter egg hunts and televised parades to attend church services, enjoying the familiarity of family traditions and sitting respectfully, in prayerful contemplation of holiday menus as priests, ministers, and the Gospel writers proclaim, “Christ is risen!”

The proclamation is made, but not heard.  The words are 2000 years old and we’ve grown accustomed to their sound.  Yet evidence suggests—No. Rather it screams—that our need of this news is as great or greater now than ever before. 

What do Americans want?  If what we buy is any indication, we desperately desire sensual pleasure, affection, bodies that never age, masterful minds, and some excitement to jolt our hearts out of the numbed state caused by too many misdirected efforts and too little hope.  We want an escape from suffering into a life that delights and stimulates, and we want bodies, minds, and hearts equipped to enjoy all that this new life might offer.

What if such a life was possible?  What if someone were to present you with incontrovertible proof that such aspirations were not only attainable, but that you were setting your sights too low!  

Suppose, for example, that instead of receiving new technologies that could repair a dying body, you could receive a whole new kind of body that was stunningly beautiful, immune to all signs of decay and death, and not bound by the limitations of time or space so that you could make it appear and disappear at will.  But don’t stop there.  Suppose that you could also have a mind that was not limited by an imperfect, physical brain and a heart that swelled with a joy that far exceeded the most fantastic of sexually induced ecstasies.

Sound too good to be true?  But this is precisely the truth that confronted the first disciples of Jesus when they encountered him in his risen, glorified state.  The resurrection was a mind-blowing, positively unprecedented revelation that would fundamentally alter their perception of reality.  Suddenly the suffering of this world seemed a small matter indeed, for these first disciples were given a taste of a world to come that offered unimaginable treasures to be enjoyed for all eternity.

What would you give in exchange for a chance at this sort of life?  People who are willing to endure the pain of surgery simply to get rid of a few wrinkles or risk the side effects of certain pharmaceuticals for the sake of enhanced virility would, no doubt, be willing to give a good deal.  And this is the catch.  The new life promised in the resurrection is not without cost.  Those who wish to obtain it must turn their entire beings over to the Divine Power who can transform it.  It’s an all or nothing proposition.  Anything that we retain for ourselves remains under the domain of our own grossly limited abilities.  Can a surgeon or a pharmacist give you eternal life?

But trusting my entire being to God is terrifying.  What if he knows that I will be tempted to keep myself for this world if I receive all the sensual pleasures that I desire?  I might not get everything I want. I might have to suffer after all.  And yet, holding on to the things of this world will eventually cause the very suffering that I wish to avoid, for the things of this world will inevitably pass away.  God is immense, mysterious and terrifying, but God is my only chance.

And so the words “Christ is risen!” cause the Christian heart to both soar with hope and tremble with fear.  These are the words that challenge all we know of existence and open our minds to more than we thought possible.  This is the truth that will set us free: God is real and we are destined to share in his eternal life.

Maura Hearden, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of theology

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