What in the world is Easter about? It makes no sense to celebrate the gruesome death of a minor country preacher, making a virtue, as Nietzsche warned, of failure.
There’s no subtlety to the symbolism of the alternative celebration of fertility this weekend, all eggs and rabbits and rainbows and yeah, we get it. Yet the odd, dark events of that ancient Passover/Easter weekend warrant a closer look. For here some important matters are being transacted in disguise, in irony, in spite of the intentions of some of the lead characters in the drama.
As Jesus submits himself completely to leaders of the Jewish religion of the day, he finally tells them who he is—Messiah and the divine Son of Man—only for the light of this final revelation to expose the dark logic of their understanding and motives. Since they will not accept him as Lord, he must be a blasphemer. And since they will not worship him as God, they must destroy him as Beelzebul. For all of their great religious tradition and learning, their custodianship of what Paul sums up as “the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2), when their God finally comes to save them, they not only fail to recognize him, but take him to be exactly the opposite, the Enemy.
The Romans, representing the rest of humanity, the Gentiles, demonstrate the hollowness of their own purported glory. For as Jesus then submits to the Roman legal system, the pride of that civilization, it evanesces under the slight pressure of expediency. Jesus becomes a nuisance, and the massive integrity of Roman law is easily set aside, as a cardboard façade, to dispose of him. So much, then, for all those marble columns and domes and pavements (let the reader understand). Rome was, indeed, built on sand after all.
The religious leaders then stop by the Cross, in a kind of last paroxysm of unwitting self-condemnation, to announce sarcastically that they surely will believe in Jesus if he will just come down from the cross—the very action that would conform to their preferences for a Messiah and betray the true Messiahship his suffering is accomplishing.
Meanwhile, “just Rome” gambles for Jesus’ garments and then compromises its own ruthless standards of extended judicial torture by crucifixion as it summarily kills the prisoners by breaking their legs so as to oblige the niceties of Jewish ritual. Again, law is set aside for political considerations.
Having revealed the true nature, then, of everyone around him (including his own disciples, the big, strong, brave ones having left while the women [!] and the youngest, John, staunchly remain), Jesus subversively reveals his own.
He suffers and dies as a sacrificial lamb, his last words confusing some nearby (“Is he calling for Elijah?”) as he invokes not only the bleakness but also the confidence of Psalm 22. Then they ring down the centuries as declarations of victory (“It is finished!”) and trust (“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”).
What strange things to say for someone so obviously crushed by the combined weight of human evil. Almost as if he didn’t understand what was happening.
Then he is buried. Gone. Out of sight, out of mind.
Like a ticking bomb.
The first explosion brings him out of the tomb. Wow. “My Lord and my God.”
The next one, the Big One, will bring us all out. And it will rearrange the entire topography of the world: spiritual, political, medical, ecological, aesthetic—you name it. The Lamb-become-Lion will toss away the crown of thorns for a crown of light, and true religion and true justice will reign in him forever.
Quite a weekend, this Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Happy Easter. Not what they might appear to be. Nor is Jesus quite what he appears to be . . .