Easter, with the joy at the coming of spring, with all the happiness with which the sun warms our hearts, has become for each of us since childhood a festival dear to our hearts, a festival filled with warm memories from which we do not want to part. Who among us would want to lose even a single spring from our lives? But to say that our entire life depends upon Easter, that our existence would be threatened if there were no Easter – who among us would want or even could bear such a thing? But Paul did indeed say it. And because he reflected a bit more thoroughly on this question than we tend to do, we may assume that such a statement does indeed harbor a certain meaning about which one might perhaps reflect further. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”
Hence, all apparently depends upon our understanding of exactly what Paul meant by the word “raised.” What does resurrection mean and what can it mean for us? These are the old Easter questions that we cannot avoid unless we are thoughtless. The overwhelming phenomenon of perpetually self-renewing spring enables humanity throughout the world to sense something of the primal struggle between darkness and light in which, after intense fighting, light emerges victorious – spring emerges form the dark winter. Each year renews this colossal spectacle of nature, awakening in humankind an intimation of hope in resurrection. All that is dark must ultimately become light. This is a law of nature; indeed, darkness is not really an entity in an for itself; it exists only as the absence of light. A single ray of sunlight destroys it. And the sun comes, comes most assuredly, and with it the resurrection of nature. The seeds of life are already contained in the death of nature. Indeed, death is not really death at all, but a stage of life that abides in embryonic form within the seemingly rigid bodies. Life and light must emerge victorious, and death and darkness are merely their manifestations. These ideas are the common property and primal possessions of humankind, even back to its most primitive spiritual and intellectual life, and it is form such ideas that our own modernized Easter faith draws without noticing that Christianity has far different things to say about Easter.
Easter is concerned not with a struggle between darkness an light, which ultimately light will win in any case since darkness is, after all, actually nothing, because death is already life; nor with a struggle between winter and spring, between ice and sun, but with the struggle of guilty humanity against divine love, or better: of divine love against guilty humanity, struggle in which God appears to be vanquished on Good Friday and in which God, precisely by losing – wins – on Easter. Is God victorious – or is Prometheus (representing un-Christian cultural piety) victorious? That is the question that is answered on Easter by God’s mighty deed. Good Friday is not the darkness that must necessarily yield to light. It is not the winter sleep that contains and nourishes the seed of life within. It is the day on which human beings – human beings who wanted to be like gods – kill the God who became human, the love that became a person; the day on which the Holy One of God, that is, God himself, dies, truly dies – voluntarily and yet because of human guilt – without any seed of life remaining in him in such a way that God’s death might resemble sleep. Good Friday is not, like winter, a transitional stage – no, it is genuinely the end, the end of guilty humanity and the final judgment that humanity has pronounced upon itself. And here only one thing can help, namely, God’s own mighty deed in the midst of humanity from within God’s eternity. Easter is not an immanent or inner-worldly event, but a transcendent, world-transcending event, God’s intervention from eternity through which God professes loyalty to God’s Holy One and raises that Holy One from the dead. Easter speaks not about immortality but about resurrection, resurrection from the dead through God’s mighty deed, from death that is genuinely death with all its horrors and terrors, death of the body and of the soul, of the entire person. That is the Easter message.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1909-45), “3/31 Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:17” in Barcelona, Berlin, New York, 1928-1931, Works Vol. 10, 486-7.
HT: Tony Reinke
Image Credit: Missio Dei Church