It’s easy to think about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for individuals. It’s especially easy to do this in our time, because we are a highly individualistic society. What’s most important in life is what affects me. I am the sole judge of my “values” and my fate. “No one has the right to judge me.” Or so goes the mantra of pop postmodernity. So when postmoderns in the church think about Easter, they naturally consider primarily, if not exclusively, its implications for them as individuals: what has the resurrected Jesus done for me. Better: what has he done for me lately. This attitude fits quite nicely with the self-centeredness and the downright narcissism of postmodernity.
But if we understand the resurrection, we can’t escape the cultural dimensions of Christianity. In fact, it’s possible that there’s no more culturally significant fact in the Bible than Jesus’ resurrection, apart from the creation of the world itself. Easter is all about culture, and it contrasts vividly with the death culture that surrounds us.
Progressivism’s Death Culture
Secular Western culture is “progressive,” meaning: confident that the measure of linear history is the measure of moral evolution. Barack Obama once said of the Republicans: “They want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950’s than the 21st century.” It was apparently so obvious to Obama and his sympathizers that no reasonable person would believe that the 1950’s are preferable to the 21st century that their viewpoint didn’t even need defense or explanation. But this progressivism ironically isn’t committed to what we today trendily term “human flourishing”; all to the contrary. As Michael Walsh writes in his literate, lacerating The Devil’s Pleasure Palace:
[L]eftists generally try to live as long as possible themselves; cowards to a man, there is literally nothing they would die for, not even their own alleged principles. Largely deficient in the self-sacrifice gene, and with the word “altruism” essentially foreign to them, they are obsessed with their health, with medical care and coercive government schemes to “provide” such services at someone else’s expense. Always cloaking their demand for larger, more intrusive, and more punitive government in the guise of “compassion,” the only thing they’re willing to fight for (other than the “Fight” itself) is their own survival, even as they declare it to be utterly meaningless.
And yet Death fascinates them. Whether it is the death of society (think of Lukács’ constant invocations of “destruction” and “annihilation”) or the deaths of millions of innocents in the purges and atrocities of National Socialism and the Soviet-style communism (can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs), death is a constant feature both of their philosophy and their political prescriptions, which include not only abortion but, increasingly, euthanasia. Wearing their customary mask of solicitous compassion, they can’t wait for you to die to steal your stuff.
Today’s death culture is palpable. It is far wider than understandable grief over death. Rather, it is the perverse glorification of death. The slaughter of pre-born children, the mercy killings of the infirm and elderly, Lady Gaga’s pop lyrics about death and suicide all testify to death culture. “All they that hate me [divine wisdom] love death” (Prov. 8:36). A culture that knows nothing of Easter knows of nothing more significant than death.
In sharp contrast, Easter culture is vivifying culture. What is resurrection, but life from the dead? But apart from resurrection, death abounds. When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, they began experiencing the horror of death around them. Plants died. Animals died. Their son Abel died, at the hand of his sinful brother Cain. We can only imagine the shock — genuine culture shock — when they first observed death. This wasn’t how things were from the beginning. This wasn’t as it was meant to be. This wasn’t a design flaw. This was a user flaw.
In John 11:33 we read that as Jesus contemplated the death of his friend Lazarus and all of those in the house weeping at his death, he was indignant, angry. He was angry at the dreadful consequence of sin: death. “This is not right,” Jesus must’ve been saying to himself. “I must do something to stop this. All of this sadness, all of this weeping, all of this wailing are not my Father’s intention for this good, beautiful world.” Jesus did raise his friend Lazarus that day, as a sort of down payment on his own resurrection and the future, Final Resurrection of the redeemed. That day, his “This is not right,” became “I refuse to let this stand.” Jesus was indignant at death culture. Easter culture overturns death culture.
The Young Messiah
The current movie The Young Messiah highlights in the most graphic way the healing, life-bestowing obsession of even the boy Jesus. God’s chosen One, even before he grasps his own significance as God’s Son, cannot help but exhibit God’s vivifying, healing love to those plagued by the enervating, death-dealing effects of sin. Wherever the Messiah goes, there goes life. Wherever the Messiah goes, death and sickness recede. Easter was simply the final exclamation of an earthly sojourn that relentlessly pursued the death of death and disease.
Easter culture relishes life. Easter culture rejoices when children are born into a family, relishes the laughter of God’s good provision in friends and love and food and wine and planting and harvest and new inventions and discoveries that enhance man’s good life on God’s good earth. Easter culture is optimistic. Easter culture is faith-infused and future-oriented. Easter culture knows that hardships are only steppingstones to future blessings. Easter culture looks death in the face and laughs (1 Cor. 15:50–58).
God’s Global Vivifying Operation
When Jesus rose from the grave 2000 years ago, he didn’t simply rise in order to take a few souls to heaven. He inaugurated his great global vivifying operation. His goal is nothing short of banishing sin from his good world, a condition that, while not entirely completed in this life, is well underway.
This Easter, while celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, we are equally celebrating our culture’s resurrection, its vivification, its life.
Our Lord’s resurrection creates a culture: Easter culture.
Easter culture is Jesus Christ’s declaration to death: “I refuse to let this stand.”