Sunday, April 21, 2019

He Is Risen

He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. 

Matthew 28:6
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Matthew 28:1-10

Thus Matthew recounts the miracle that is the essence of Christian belief, and the font of all Christian tradition: that Jesus, having suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, descended into Hell, yet rose again from the dead.

Whether the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is miracle or myth is, ultimately, irrelevant. Miracle or myth, the relevance of the Resurrection in daily living is as metaphor: Jesus overcame even physical death, transcending into Divine Being. 

The Good News that is the Gospel is simply this: through faith--in Jesus and in God--all men may similarly transcend into divinity. Indeed, the Christian community is called to such transcendence,  as Paul points out in Romans:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.
The Resurrection offers meaning and hope. Through the Resurrection, Christ redeems all of Mankind. And if the Resurrection is the foundation of Christianity, redemption is surely its most essential teaching. 

Redemption is Christianity's greatest contribution to Western thought and Western civilization. Redemption shifts the meaning of law--both the laws of men and the Laws of God. Redemption displaces the highly conditional and consequential ramifications of Mosaic Law (and the many other ancient legal traditions of which the Mosaic Law is but a part), replacing atonement as the key to righteousness, and thus the essence of justice. Redemption, the particular gift of Jesus Christ, is thus relevant to even the most avowed non-Christian.

Consider the words themselves. "Atonement" is "reparation for an offense or injury". "Redemption" is an act "serving to offset or compensate for a defect." Atonement is something we ourselves must do; redemption is something that is done for us, and offered to us.

This is no small change to the meaning of law. When Christ healed the paralytic, proclaiming the man's sins were forgiven, the scribes and priestly authorities accused Him of blasphemy. The notion of redemption was as radical--and as threatening to the established social order--then as it is today, the era of political correctness and "#MeToo" pogroms against the slightest of sexual faux pas. When redemption displaces atonement as the measure of justice, those who enforce the law are themselves displaced, for what need is there of priestly intercession or priestly justification when the demand for atonement, the insistence upon acts of contrition, is mooted?

In teaching redemption vs atonement, Jesus articulates an inescapable and universal truth: regardless of who we are, where we are, what we have done or not done, we are all human. We are all part of the same Mankind whom Jesus came into the world to save. This is not a truth that is confined to the Bible, nor to the teachings of Jesus, and there are innumerable secular sources that echo this same truth--one of my personal favorites comes from John F. Kennedy's American University commencement address in 1963: "...our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal."

Thomas Jefferson positioned this truth at the center of the Declaration of Independence, brilliantly transforming a simple proclamation of the American colonies' intention to rid themselves of British rule into a profoundly eloquent proclamation of humanity, and the universal bequest of civil rights and civil liberties that is given to all men in all places at all times. This is a theme President Kennedy would reiterate in his 1960 inaugural address: "...the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."

Redemption is thus the essential prerequisite to liberty. As redemption is the fundamental proclamation of our humanity, it is also the foundation of our freedom. Redemption establishes that the ultimate authority--the sole arbiter of right and wrong--is not a judge, nor a king, nor any head of a State, but only God Himself. Redemption renders us all equal, and thus through redemption we derive the Jeffersonian precept that all government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed--for when we are all equal before God, and when we are all redeemed by God, on what authority may any one man impose upon his fellows?

The theme of redemption is subtly woven throughout the text of the United States Constitution. We see it in the unconditional pardon power granted to the President in Article 2 Section 2. We see it in the prohibition in Article 1 Section 9 against Bills of Attainder. We see it in the prohibition against "corruption of blood" in Article 3 Section 3. We see it in the rights expressed in the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Amendments. The wording of each of these passages is noteworthy for being unconditional. These rights are not held to the whimsy of a government, nor of any court nor judge. These rights belong to all people, in all times, at all places. Being unconditional, they are neither earned nor can they be rescinded.

Without the hope of redemption, how could any people even contemplate the "more perfect Union" mentioned within the Constitution's Preamble?

Redemption is the eye to the future. Atonement is ever focused on the past. Redemption is what makes possible the societal transformations sought (and, in large measure, achieved) by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as laid out in his historic "I Have A Dream" speech:
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
The Good News of this Easter Sunday, of every Easter Sunday, is not merely that Jesus has risen from the dead, but that, by His rising, we all may hope to rise--rise above our failings, rise above our faults, rise above the petty differences that separate us from each other. The Good News of Easter is that it is within every man to rise up and be free--and we are all called to freedom, even as Paul reminded the Galatians:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
My prayer this day is that all may rejoice in the day, for He is Risen and we are made free. 

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