The Resurrection is not an appendix to the Crucifixion

Ever since I heard someone on Easter Sunday praying and leading worship with almost no mention of the Resurrection but many references to the crucifixion (the sermon was good!), this has been rolling around in my head, taking shape along the way. Since it’s still Easter, it’s still seasonal. And, hey, it was Orthodox Easter two days ago! Anyway, as the title of this post says:

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not an appendix to his crucifixion

Resurrection, from Notre Dame de Paris (my photo)

This should be obvious, if you ask me. It clearly isn’t, as my anecdotal introduction demonstrates. I also watched, around Eastertide, a video someone posted on the Facebook of some hillbilly (he actually called himself a hillbilly; I have nothing against hillbillies, they are a noble people) saying that the point of the resurrection was to show that the crucifixion worked. Perhaps not so crudely, but that was the gist.

A lot of evangelicals express their faith this way. I was at a big evangelical church in London on Sunday (the Second Sunday After Easter by how people reckon Sundays today), and we sang a hymn that had several lovely lines in it about the crucifixion, and one (one!) about the resurrection. And the minister did not preach on the Resurrection. Easter is, apparently, a one-day event that comes once a year. Otherwise, this whole Eastertide thing might interfere with your plans to do a sermon series on one of the Pauline epistles.

One year on Easter Sunday, one of my Truly Reformed acquaintances remarked, ‘I know why, historically, Jesus had to rise from the dead, but I don’t get the theology of it, since the crucifixion atoned for sin.’

Not that evangelicals and Protestants are alone in this. Consider the crucifixes and statues of Christ’s slain body of Roman Catholic Europe, the magnificent medieval poetry of the Passion, the plays of the Passion, the paintings of the crucifixion, the medieval devotion to the dying Christ, the fact that Julian of Norwich explicitly had a vision of Christ on the cross.

Sometimes, I think people forget that we are oned to God because Jesus lives.

Indeed, the resurrection is the very real, living heart of the Christian faith.

After all, if Christ was not raised from the dead, you (we!) are still dead in your (our! my!) sins. (1 Cor. 15:17)

In 1 Corinthians 15, St Paul gives a summary of the faith that some scholars (like Gerald O’Collins, The Easter Jesus) think is an early liturgical, credal statement. It takes verses 3-7; 3 and a phrase in 4 cover the crucifixion. 4-7 are about the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. A man coming back from the dead changes everything.

Jesus did not simply die to save you from your sins.

Jesus Christ rose from the dead to kill death itself.

Death has lost its sting. (1 Cor 15 again)

Death is the great leveler of human existence, and we all avoid it. Survival is one of our base, animal instincts. Achilles, in Hades in The Odyssey 11, tells Odysseus that he would rather be a slave among the living than a prince among the dead (that was Achilles, right?). Death is so noxious that even Jesus Christ groaned/wept at the death of Lazarus — before raising Lazarus from the dead!

With the lightning flash of his Godhead, as the Orthodox pray, Jesus has slain death. Magnificent. This is Easter.

If you are blessed to go to a Prayer Book church, this Easter faith would be unmistakable — behold the Easter anthems, the heart of the Easter faith, biblical Christianity:

Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast;

Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor 5:7)

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.

For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ro. 6:9)

Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:20)

Let’s stick with BCP for the rest of this post, considering the heart of the book, the Epistles and Gospels for Eastertide.

Easter’s epistle is Col. 3, starting at verse 1, ‘If ye then be risen with Christ…’ The Gospel is John 20. If you have a second service that day, 2 Tim, starting at verse 8:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel … For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we endure, we shall also reign with him.

The Gospel for a second service is the Resurrection in Mark 16.

Monday in Easter Week. Lesson: Acts 10:34ff., Peter preaches the Resurrection of Jesus. Gospel: Luke 24:13ff., disciples on the road to Emmaus (Resurrection!).

Tuesday in Easter Week. Lesson: Acts 13:26ff., Paul preaches the Resurrection of Jesus. Gospel: Luke 24:36ff., Jesus visits the disciples.

First Sunday After Easter. Epistle: 1 John 5:4ff., about the victory of God & eternal life. Gospel: John 20:19ff., more Resurrection.

Morning Prayer for Easter (Canada 1962 BCP). First Lesson: Exodus 12:1-14, the Passover. Second: Rev. 1:4-18, deals with various things, but Jesus is primarily known as ‘firstborn from the dead’.

Evening Prayer for Easter. First: Exodus 14:5-end, crossing the Red Sea (type of baptism, which is dying and rising with Christ). Second: John 20:11-12 (RESURRECTION!)

Elsewhere in the daily office at Eastertide, we see prophecies of God conquering death, of reclaiming his people to himself, of the great and glorious day of the Lord, or praise and rejoicing in the face of God.

I assume the Revised Common Lectionary is similar.

Easter is our salvation. Jesus proves his innocence by the empty tomb. Jesus, in fact, leaves the tomb precisely because he is both God incarnate and an innocent man. This is not the proof that Good Friday worked, but a glorious, amazing event all by itself.

It is the Resurrection that fuelled the disciples into apostles. It is the resurrection of Jesus that points to our future resurrection, when we shall sow a corruptible body and be raised incorruptible! (Again, 1 Cor 15)

Recently, someone posited that if we set 1-2 Corinthians at the centre of Paul’s corpus instead of Romans and Galatians, we would have a different emphasis in our theology. I see here that we would, perhaps, do a better job at keeping the Resurrection, the rising of a dead man from the grave, the restoration of fulness of life of a person who was completely dead, at the centre of our faith.

I wonder how our Christian walk, worship, churches, Bible reading, love of others, would change if we (myself included) lived in a daily remembrance and joy at the fact that Jesus Christ has ‘overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life’ (BCP Collect for Tuesday in Easter Week).

Baby Jesus and his Mom

A Madonna & Child, Duomo in Milano

As I stood at the Capello di Crucifisso on Sunday (discussed here), I noted that the chapel to my left had more attendees. There, front and centre was a Madonna and Child, with a little railing and kneelers besides the tables of candles and pews that it had in common with the Crucifixion.

More people were there to pray and light candles and kneel before an image — beautiful, certainly — of Our Lord as a child in the arms of His mother.

Later, in the galleries of the Sforzesco Castello, I saw more Madonnas. All equipped with a baby, thankfully. One such piece by Andrea Mantegna was originally for an altarpiece and has been extensivelly restored, and is visible here.

I am not opposed to images of the Virgin being painted. And if she comes equipped with the Child, all the better! Indeed, since her Son is the entire reason she gets any attention at all, she had better come with him!

But in the crowds of Madonnas, I fear sometimes that something is lost. Every once in a while, one of my evangelical brethren makes a scoffing comment in the direction of crucifixes, declaring proudly, ‘My Jesus didn’t stay dead.’

I know a priest whose response to this, when people note his glow-in-the-dark crucifix (he swears he didn’t know it was glow-in-the-dark when he got it), is, ‘Do you have a manger scene at Christmas?’

St. George's Anglican Church, Prince Albert SK

‘Yes,’ comes the answer.

‘Is Jesus a baby in it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well,’ he says, ‘my Jesus didn’t stay a baby.’

My Jesus didn’t stay a baby. In fact, the baby Jesus didn’t atone for sin. Certainly, the fact that God was eight days old and held in the arms of His mother makes for the beginnings of a new reality, but it’s not until we take God as a grown man and savagely put Him to death and He rises from the dead that he atones for sin and makes possible the new life to which all may enter in.

What I see as the detrimental effect of all these Baby Jesuses, eight days old in the arms of His mother, is not an elevation of the Virgin so much as a confusion about Who He really is. Thus, the many mediaeval saints who saw visions of the Christ Child speaking to them.

Or the tale of the Jews who stole some Host to desecrate it, and when they stabbed it, they saw the image of a Child, and the Host bled. (Not giving credence to the story in any way.)

The Christ Who is present in the Heavens now, Who watches over His people and hears their prayers, Who sometimes even speaks to them, is, in fact, adult, not infantile. The Christ Whose death is commemorated and Whose body, by Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and some Anglican theology, is present in the bread and wine, was and is an adult.

This is important, because acknowledging that the Child who was laid in a manger left this sphere of existence as a grown Man is an acknowledgement of the fullness of his human existence. Jesus lived a full human life.

I do not believe that the infant Jesus would have atoned for sin if slain. If what has not been assumed cannot be healed, then I believe that Jesus had to live at least long enough to be tempted to be able to atone for sin. How can one who has never been tempted by sin save me from it?

Irenaeus (or is it Athanasius?) takes it further, and says that Jesus lived to be an old man, thus going through and redeeming every stage of human life.

The Baby Jesus doesn’t save me.

The Man Jesus, crucified, risen, ascended, does.

Processional Cross, St. George's Anglican, Prince Albert, SK

Western Crucifixes

Capello del Crucifisso, Duomo, Milan

Yesterday morning, I stood at the Capello del Crucifisso — Chapel of the Crucifixion — while Ambrosian Rite Morning Prayer was sung in the Choir at Milan’s Duomo. A smallish (medium?) huddle had gathered at the chapel, and the tables in front were laden with candles representing the prayers of Milan’s Catholic populace.

As I looked at this crucifix, I noticed that there was a crown with it. Not a crown on the Lord Jesus’ head, but sort balancing there between him and the cross itself. The crown looks like the sort a Late Mediaeval or Renaissance king would wear.

Calvin criticises crucifixes, and all images of Our Lord, because they cannot show the glory. They are necessarily impious because all you can see is suffering humanity, not the correlative truth of glorious divinity. I imagine that an image of Christ the King in glory would have the opposite problem for John Calvin.

The Eastern Orthodox criticise our crucifixes because Christ is hanging there as just a dead or dying man, not standing as the king in control that he was. They say that the bare history has won over against the theology in western crucifixes.

That crown points to the barrenness of both positions, I think. Christ is King in every western crucifix, and He is glorious.

Later, in the museums found in the Castello Sforzesco, I found a few more carved Jesuses. My favourite was a bearded but bald wooden Christ from the fourteenth century. He looked like a man, like any man, hanging and dying on the cross.

And that is exactly the point, isn’t it?

God became a man, a particular man, but a man who was like any other man (except for sin, of course). And when he was hung upon the tree, he looked like any other man. And he died like any other man. That he rose himself on the third day is evidence that he is not any other man.

But this is precisely the glory of the Christian Gospel. God became a man. If you were alive in Judaea in the first century, you would have seen Jesus as a particular person, and you would not have seen him refulgent with his glory (unless you were Peter, James, and John on Mt. Tabor).

My favourite -- the Bernini Crucifix in the AGO

The glory of God is that he came ‘down’ from heaven and was incarnate as a baby, lived as a man, and died as a criminal. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus points to his upcoming crucifixion as the moment of his glory. This act of supreme weakness on the part of the supremely powerful One is his moment of greatest triumph, of most wondrous glory, for he is not a pagan God of old, but the God who loves his people with a neverending, sacrificial love that would give anything.

Contrary to Calvin and the Orthodox, these crucifixes in Milan are, in fact, images of glory. They are images of the greatest glory God has to show us — His Death in the Person of His Son, Jesus.