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    The So What of Easter

(Article Published in the April 04,2013 issue of Business Mirror)

       Three books constituted my reading last week (March 28 to 30, inclusive). And, as the season befits, the focus of my interest was the meaning, if any, of Easter. What do recent studies suggest can be extracted from it?

       Because of his recent resignation, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s two part work entitled “Jesus of Nazareth” was first in my list. Part One dealt with period starting with Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River up to the Transfiguration; Part Two was about the Holy Week, from the entry into Jerusalem up to the Resurrection.

       There are, points out Joseph Ratzinger, two types of Resurrection testimony. One is the confessional tradition where the gist is proclaimed. For example, in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he proclaimed:

       “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive...Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

       The other form of Resurrection testimony is the narrative tradition where accounts of the Risen Christ’s appearances are told, each telling reflective of the audience, the source of the tradition, and even the geographic, either Jerusalem or Galilee, provenance of the stories.

       In both cases, however, the core message is that the Risen Christ was not a mere resuscitated person who will die eventually, nor a ghost or spirit belonging to the realm of the dead but somehow able to return to the world, nor was he just a mystical experience of one taken out of himself momentarily, given a peek of the divine, and then returned to normalcy.

       Instead, Ratzinger characterized it as “akin to a radical ‘evolutionary leap’ in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension of human existence.” That new dimension can be thought of as the result of an event that took place in space and time but went beyond them. Thus, he says. “Perhaps we could put it this way: Jesus’ Resurrection points beyond history but has left a footprint within history. Therefore it can be attested by witnesses as an event of an entirely new kind.”

       The consequence for us is thus: “If we attend to the witnesses with listening hearts and open ourselves to the signs by which the Lord again and again authenticates both them and himself, then we know that he is truly risen. He is alive. Let us entrust ourselves to him, knowing that we are on the right path. With Thomas, let us place our hands into Jesus’ pierced side and confess, ‘My Lord and my God.”

       That we are treading the right path is, naturally, difficult to be sure of every time. One way to be certain is, as can be gleaned from the second book I read entitled “The Last Week”, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, to have the same “passion for which Jesus was willing to risk his life. That passion was the Kingdom of God [as he articulated in the Beatitudes], and it led him to Jerusalem as the place of confrontation with the domination system of his time, execution, and vindication. The political meaning of Good Friday sees the human problem as injustice, and the solution as God’s justice.”

       “His passion,” Borg and Crossan continue, “was the kingdom of God, what life would be like on earth if God were king, and the rulers, domination systems, and empires of this world were not. It is the world that the prophets dreamed of—a world of distributive justice in which everybody has enough and systems are fair. It is God’s dream, a dream that can only be realized by being grounded ever more deeply in the reality of God, whose heart is justice. Jesus’s passion got him killed. But God has vindicated Jesus. This is the political meaning of Good Friday and Easter.”

       The authors stress the “strong anti-imperial theology in the gospels. Anti-imperial theology continues in Paul’s affirmation that Jesus is Lord and therefore empire and the emperor are not. It resounds again in the strange book of Revelation, whose central contrast is between the lordship of Christ and the lordship of empire. Empire is the beast from the abyss, the great harlot drunk with the blood of the saints, the monster whose number is 666.”

       The struggle between the believers in the Kingdom and the minions of the Empire goes on, in our own time and place. “It’s not over yet” screams the title of Brendan Lovett’s thin paperback from the presses of the Clarentian Publications in Quezon City.

       Indeed, this continuing conflict leaps out of our daily newspapers that reflect the endemic hardship in the lives of our countrymen here and abroad. It is thoroughly documented in the book, with the title “Why Nations Fall” by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson that was gifted to me just before the onset of Lent by Sen. Serge Osmeña. More about their insights in future articles.