Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : March 18, 2008
This article originally appeared on www.jesusmanifesto.com . I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but it is worth reading.
Easter is coming. On Sunday, we remember the day that our Lord wrested free from the confines of the grave. It is the day when the final Enemy, death began its own march to the grave.
Holy Week is an odd time of year. My family didn’t celebrate Holy Week. To me, it was simply a day of pastel marshmallow bunnies and birds (I think Peeps taste nasty) , colored hard-boiled eggs, and jelly beans. Nothing more. Pretty lame as far as holidays go. The only one in my family who really liked Easter was my sister Chantel, but only because she loved coloring the eggs so much.
As I got older, I began to notice peculiar things about the season leading up to Easter. I noticed that on some Wednesday about a month before Easter, people got smudges of ash placed upon their foreheads. Vaguely, I knew that the ash thing had something to do with Easter. And I think I knew that Easter had to do with the day that Jesus went up into heaven or something.
I embraced Christianity in my teens. I had the weepy camp experience and got really involved in church. My faith meant a lot to me. And I really really loved Jesus. My family wasn’t really into Jesus and church at the time, so I felt like it was MY thing. That made it all the more special to me. Around that time I realized that the smudgy ash day was Ash Wednesday. Our church didn’t celebrate that stuff because we believed it was dead religion. But I secretly thought it was kinda cool. I also learned that Holy Week was kind of a big deal. Especially Good Friday, which was about how Jesus died. Lutherans and Catholics had other special days during the week, but we charismatics and Pentecostals and low church evangelicals really only focused on two days: Good Friday and Easter. Cross and Resurrection. They were all that mattered.
It was on the Cross, you see, that Jesus took all of our sins upon himself and then died. He took our just punishment. And on Easter Jesus rose from the dead–a sign that his sacrifice was accepted by God. And it showed that Jesus is more powerful than sin and death. If we believe that he died on the Cross for our own sins, we too can be resurrected some day.
The nice thing about all of this is that God takes me just as I am, right? Once I trust in his sacrifice on my behalf, I can trust that, some day, I will join him in Heaven. Right? That is what Easter is all about. It is about me being accepted as I am. What I do with the rest of my life matters…but not as much as the joyful recognition that my afterlife is secured.
Easter is that day when you appear
To whisper sweet nothings into my ear
And to forgive my sins, my dear
Like drinking too much beer
And forgetting you all year
Show me the path
Away from God’s wrath
Give my soul a bath
So that I can laugh
For all the junk I hath
From plying $atan’s math
You make me white as snow
So merrily I go
To maintain the status quo
Like keeping down the low
Having too much dough
Or killing all my foes
The scandal of Easter is that it has been used to reinforce the status quo. Instead of seeing the Cross and Resurrection as a death to the old way and the opening of a new way, it is tempting to see them mechanistically. If we believe, our slate is cleaned. And we can continue on as though nothing has ever happened.
And so, because of Jesus’ death, I don’t have to change my life. I’m not responsible for changing the corrupt systems that I’ve inherited. I don’t have to worry about the poor. I don’t need to DO anything. Jesus took care of all that on the Cross. And when he rose from the dead, he made it possible for me to go to the Kingdom of God when I die.
This way of seeing Easter permeates the Western understanding of Christianity. But is this how Jesus understood his death? As he gathered disciples and set his face towards Jerusalem, he called his followers to take their cross and follow him. In his final week, he cleanses the Temple, speaks against the teachers of the Law, and predicts the destruction of the Temple.
His death was an act of judgment against a corrupt system. And in his resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the Spirit, a new way is opened up for us to speak prophetically to the domination system (the global web of institutions and governments in the hands of the few that oppress the many), resist the powers, and live in the Kingdom. Here. Now.
I don’t mean to diminish the reconciling work of Jesus on the Cross. By no means. Nor am I advocating that God will only forgive you if you do stuff for him. I am merely suggesting that we need to drop our transactional understanding of the Gospel. To follow Jesus is to walk in his way. His death and resurrection opens up for us a new way. We, filled by the Spirit, are called to live and move in the way of Jesus. Let us remember Jesus’ death and resurrection by taking up our cross and experiencing a new way of life.
Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He and his wife Amy have been married since 1997. They are expecting their first child in April.