The Passion of Easter
by Paul Walker
I have no intention of seeing Mel Gibson's film. This decision
is not theological - it�s human. I�m not a "real man". I can�t face the
gore. I think I would find the film even more shocking than Janet
Despite that, it is extraordinary how successful the film is. Its
success points to one of the great dilemmas of Christianity.
Many readers of the Christian scriptures conclude that the most
important event in them is Easter. However, the passion has always played
a much bigger part in Christian art, thought and theology. I suspect the
problem is not with the passion. Blood, pain and torture have always
fascinated people. No, the real problem is the message of Easter.
Let�s for a moment forget the historical questions about what exactly
happened to Jesus after his death and ask, "What on earth is Easter all
about? What are we supposed to do with it?"
Traditional Christianity states that three days after his death Jesus
appeared bodily to his disciples, did a little teaching and then
disappeared into heaven. A quick survey of Christians of my acquaintance
concludes that we must believe this as a matter of faith and that if we
do, we also will rise from the dead. Really! Really?
I have heard many Christians state that if Jesus� body were to be
discovered in the sands of Jerusalem their faith would disappear. It is
this one event which is seen as vindicating Jesus� message, as it were
proving that he was right all along.
Is that it? Our eternal destiny depends upon whether or not we believe
that a historical event happened?
Put like this it�s almost embarrassing. You see, since that event there
have been no demonstrable repetitions. It�s not as if many Christians have
also been raised from the dead. So we can�t say, "Look and see what
happens to followers of Jesus". As far as we can tell, those who believe
in the resurrection suffer the same fate as those who do not.
So if the traditional line is followed, the Easter event is nothing
more than something that happened to Jesus 2000 years ago and which we
have to believe. It seems that God has set us a task of believing
something impossible. If we can manage that we�ll be rewarded. And the
reward is out of this world.
No wonder Christianity puzzles an increasing number of people. People
outside Church circles think that Christianity is concerned with loving
one's neighbour, caring for others and telling the truth, that it has
something to do with morality and making the world a better place.
Insiders think it is about "faith", which they define as belief in certain
So is there any lasting value in the Easter story?
Well, for me there is. I do not for a moment believe that dead bodies
are raised to new life. However, attached to the life of Jesus are these
extraordinary legends which are possibly related to Paul�s belief in the
resurrection of the dead. Whatever the root of the stories, their
significance is that they are attached to the life of Jesus.
This attachment, this belief in Jesus� resurrection, has kept alive his
teaching so that long after we have relegated other events of Roman times
to the history books, people still try to live a life based upon the
teachings of Jesus. His teachings remain revolutionary. In them all human
life is valued, the first become last, and the last first. Violence is
condemned, power is avoided, wealth is to be shared, and human beings are
encouraged to swallow their differences by eating together. Jesus saw God
as a person as close to us as a human parent can be, and who always took
the side of the under-dog.
I don�t know what reality lies behind the legends that make the
Christian Easter. But I do know that the man to whom those legends are
attached was clearly a wonderful human being. Occasionally we become very
attached to figures in literature. I still remember reading Luke�s Gospel
for the first time and falling in love with Jesus. I no longer believe
that all the things Luke said about Jesus actually happened. Indeed,
sometimes I don�t exactly know what I believe.
But I do know that the man whom Luke, and Matthew and Mark talk about
remains deeply appealing to me. I guess I�m still in love, for I have
found no other set of teachings on which I would rather build my life.
I reckon that if the story of Easter had not been attached to the
teaching of Jesus we would know nothing of what he wanted to say. So very
early on Easter morning I still rejoice to sing, with Charles Wesley,
�Jesus Christ is ris�n today�. Alleluia!