What are Christians celebrating on Easter? Not, surely, colored eggs and furry rabbits, appealing though each may be to the lush, sunny season of fertility and renewal.
Nor are Christians celebrating the rebirth of human goodness (one is reminded of the aphorism that original sin is the only Christian doctrine that can be verified by everyday experience). Two thousand years of intervening history have not, shall we say, gone a long way toward highlighting goodness as a prominent human virtue.
Nor — mark it well — do Christians celebrate at Easter the human soul surviving death, though Christians traditionally have believed in the immorality of the human soul. Immortality is not the same as bodily resurrection, and Easter is all about the celebration of the resurrection, getting up out of the grave in a body, notably the body of Jesus Christ.
In this, Christians affirm the accounts in the Bible’s gospels — that Jesus died on the Cross for humanity’s sin and three days later rose bodily from the grave. Scandalous? Yes. Even monstrous? You bet, and no less scandalous 2000 years ago, when the sophisticated Romans and Greeks saw the human body as a burdensome prison to be ecstatically escaped at death. Today the idea of bodily resurrection garners less scorn than it did 100 years ago in the age of scientism, which denied all miracles. In our own postmodernity, where the chaos of quantum physics increasingly rules both science and philosophy, the idea that somebody who died could get up out of the grave and live again is less likely to suffer ridicule. After all, all sorts of odd things happen in the universe, so why not resurrection of a dead body?
But for Christians, Jesus’ resurrection was not a freak coincidence. Rather, it was a demonstration of God’s power in his Son, who could not be incarcerated in the grave. Why? Because in his sacrificial death on the Cross, he had faithfully discharged humanity’s sin-debt. He could not be chained by the power of sin, having endured its penalty in the agony of his very being. Jesus’ resurrection was a dramatic display of God’s vanquishing sin ’s stranglehold over humanity. Original sin may be the great fact of life, but somebody beat it, and that somebody was Jesus Christ.
By trusting in Jesus Christ and him alone, we unite with not only with his sin-paying death but, more importantly, with his sin-defying resurrection. His victory becomes ours by faith.
Easter is the Christians’ hope in facing a precarious future. It is their bulwark against the pervasive power of sin in our world. It is the answer to humanity’s most grievous inhumanity — genocide, terrorism, racism, war crimes, oppression of society’s weakest and most vulnerable, politically sponsored poverty, and a thousand other moral horrors that only the depraved mind of an individual could devise.
Easter is the celebration that sinful humanity will not, in the end, get its way.
Easter says that man may shake his fist at God, but that God — thank God! — always gets the last laugh.