My silence these days is out of anything a mild reluctance to sustain this blog as a medium for publishing my thoughts. I have been involved in work and other personal matters and have felt that not enough time has been given to thinking aloud here. For now, I am putting out a series of “occasional essays” or attempts at talking about things that pique my interest. Today is Easter, or Pascha, the greatest feast on the Christian calendar, so I will begin anew on the matter.
The essay below was inspired by an old post by James K.A. Smith, and I am working on a longer version that is an attempt to talk about death and dying.
Christ is risen!
A friend recently preached (or, as he insists, praught) that the problem with Easter was that it never caught on because it was a feast that dealt too much with our mortality. Death is a reality that is tied too closely to Easter, and in our modern, secular world where confronting death is something uncomfortable, to proclaim thus would be to teach heresy:
“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to all those in the tombs restoring life!”
Death due to war or violence is avoidable, and we have made great strides in ensuring disease does not wipe out humanity or the living world. But the price we have paid is perhaps an unwillingness to confront death as it stands. It is part of our being human and created, the fact that we do not last “forever,” and the way we attempt to explain this mystery away by supposedly “making things simple” is in my humble view counterproductive. After all has been said, I think there is not much and there ought to be nothing to say.
But death never has the last word. We die every day to something, and yet we persist even if we despair about whatever it is that leads us inexorably to that death. In the same way, the death of Christ, a result of our evil (and please do not get me started about theories that we worship instead of Christ), was necessary for the conquering of Death—and that is what made possible the Resurrection.
The creeds say very little, and rightfully so, on the “descent into hell,” more properly the “harrowing of hell.” There are places in which Scripture points to this belief that Christ went into the place of the dead, and much has been said thereafter by the early Church on the subject. The icon of the Resurrection in Eastern Christianity depicts this event. On balance, given how exasperated I have become with some of the ways in which Western Christianity in particular has attempted to explain away “why God became human,” putting some focus on this part of the story has become meaningful for my understanding of the Paschal Mystery.
For if there is anything we must understand about the Resurrection, Christ has made it possible for us to confront our mortality while saying that this mortality, our sinfulness, or whatever, does not have the final say about who we are. We are mortal and yet there will be the resurrection of the dead. Death will be the last enemy to be conquered. We too will rise with Christ in glory, but the reality of the resurrection happens now. We never say “Christ has risen” but “Christ is risen.” Amidst all that makes us human and mortal, we are given hope to continue because we live in the light of that destruction—that harrowing of hell.
“For some reason I can’t explain,
I know Saint Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word
But then that was when I ruled the world.”
- Coldplay, “Viva la Vida.”