There are Stranger Things
Easter Sunday 2021
You’ve heard the line: “Kids say the strangest things …” But have you heard it said: “God does the strangest things”? Take the resurrection of Jesus: surely the strangest of God’s strangest things.
It is the centre of the Catholic faith, at any rate. No resurrection, no Catholicism. The pope would shutter the Vatican tomorrow if Easter were proven a fraud. Christianity is indeed strange. The strangeness comes not from belief in the supernatural (pagans have always believed in unseen beings and invisible worlds), nor does it come from belief in the one God (Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Rastafarians, some Hindus, and even some Buddhists are monotheists), nor does it come from our sacramental practices, though these are surely a little strange.
We’ve got saints that say and do strange things (Padre Pio: enough said!), our monotheism breaks all the rules (Trinity!), and the center of our ritual practice is communion (Body and Blood!). The question is not whether Christianity is stranger than other religions (‘Oh yeah? Well we’ve got tons of incorrupt bodies of our holy people!’) or whether Catholicism is strange in comparison to other forms of the worldwide Jesus movement (‘We’ve got “papal infallibility.” What about you, huh?’). We don’t believe it because it’s crazy. But there are plenty today that think our belief is crazy, strange, or at least unintelligible.
What’s so crazy about the ‘Religion of Resurrection’? The ancient Greeks believed in gods and even heroic humans going to the place of the dead and returning to tell the tale. Many think that shamanism—a widespread form of religious practice, in which a healer takes ecstatic journeys to the ‘other side’, gaining wisdom and power from ancestral, divine spirits—is the prehistoric origin of modern religions. The resemblances are, of course, a little ambiguous. Jesus died; the shaman or hero’s heart does not stop during his journey.
Still, the problem of death—our own deaths, and our access, or not, to the ‘other side’—is universal: whatever else we are as humans, we have to deal with death, not least in order to understand a little of the meaning of our life.
Strange to say it but we do: Jesus ‘conquered’ or ‘overcame’ death. We even say that he ‘reigns over’ death. He is ‘Lord of life and death’, we say, ‘holding the keys of death and Hades’ (Revelation 1:18). It’s also strange that ‘belief in him’ grants ‘forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 10:43): from the mouth of St Peter that is. “All the prophets bear witness,” he says, to this connection between our belief and his forgiveness. Strange, no? Perplexing, yes? This lordship of Jesus over ‘the living and the dead’ illumines the connection, thinks the first pope: ‘belief’ means accepting, living in accord with this lordship. Connecting with his lordship through belief communicates his Easter life to us, ‘eternal life’, a new beginning for God’s creation project, humans—strange to say it—at the centre.
W Chris Hackett
© Majellan Media 2021