By Ken Trainor
Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Wreck of the Deutschland
If you asked 100 people what their favorite holiday is, I'm betting not one would say Easter (unless, of course, I was one of your 100). So I was surprised to see the headline last week on page one of the National Catholic Reporter: "We are an Easter People."
Are we? Or are we a Good Friday people? Is Christianity a Resurrection religion or a Crucifixion religion?
It seems to me that Christians, for the most part, are crucifixated. They're stuck on the cross.
Remember The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's wildly popular 2004 film? It was mostly about the Crucifixion — in all its gory glory. Sometimes I get the feeling the Resurrection is almost an afterthought, anticlimactic.
A lot of people criticize modern society's "culture of death," and rightly so. But maybe Christianity contributes to that culture with our own "cult of death." That would be a shame because Easter is very much about life revived and liberation from death.
Some will say they're both Good Friday and Easter people, and no doubt they're sincere, yet the high point of the Christian Holy Week, starting tomorrow, is the Triduum, which means "three days." Easter is not one of those three days, all of which are devoted to the death of Jesus, even though rising from the dead is very much out of the ordinary, whereas death is commonplace.
And when it came time for Christianity to adopt a symbol, they did not choose the empty tomb. They chose the cross of death. "The way of the cross," which Christians are encouraged to follow, leads to the Resurrection, we're told. But you have to get past that cross in order to comprehend what the empty tomb symbolizes.
When Jesus rose from the dead, we were told, he "conquered death." But if Jesus was/is God, rising from the dead is no big deal. It's only a big deal if it applies to us. Have the rest of us conquered death? Certainly not physically, and not psychologically or spiritually either, judging by the fear and denial of death that pervades and defines our civilization.
Politically, we're also people of the cross, crucified in every imaginable way by the new "Romans," the corporate powers-that-shouldn't-be, and their accomplices, the new "Pharisees." We all need to come down from the cross.
If the Resurrection means death no longer has power over us, we haven't bought into the notion, lovely though that notion is. What does it mean — in this life — to be "free" of death? We don't really know.
So Christians are not really Easter people. Not yet anyway. Because once we move beyond the cross of death, we still have to find our way out of the tomb.
We worship in churches, which are essentially stone enclosures. Our liturgies take place within these stylized (and stylish) "tombs." Like Plato's cave, they define the limits of our spiritual consciousness.
But if Jesus left the tomb, aren't we expected to follow? What would that mean for us?
What does it mean, in other words, to be an Easter person?
If Christianity's story has power, it is on a mythological level. The story lays out a path of spiritual development, leading to some degree of enlightenment. It tells us we must not only die in some fashion, but also find our way out of the tomb of our limited consciousness to whatever is "outside," something greater. Something embodied by "Easter" — a genuine liberation from death and a full embrace of life.
That is the Christian imagery. Other paths use different imagery, but I suspect all paths are moving in the same direction toward the same goal: a true culture of life that can only be created, in some fashion, after we "rise from the dead."
Only then will we understand what it means to "let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east."