by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
April 3, 2002
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Sunday was Easter, as it was on that memorable episode of "The Simpsons" when the Rev. Lovejoy, from the pulpit of the First Church of Springfield, preached a sermon containing no reference at all to crucifixion, death, or resurrection. This put the family -- Homer,Marge, Lisa, and Bart -- straight to sleep, where each dreamed throughBible episodes (Genesis, Exodus, Samuel, and Revelation), none of themwith the least hint of Golgotha or the empty tomb.
That program "is as true today as when it was written," to quoteHomer's favorite line whenever any biblical text is uttered on thishighly theological sitcom, and I had ready a column blithely ignoring aday that is significant in my life but hardly in that of all readers. Yet something prompted me to jettison my dread of topicality and say aword about the meaning of the day.
On the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church, Easter, like Christmasand all other religious holidays, comes about two weeks later than itdoes in the West.
But when it does come, it is the major Christian festival of the year,much bigger than Christmas. One can appreciate the reasoning: birthhappens to everyone, but resurrection to only One.
I do not know whether Russian theological thinkers make the distinction that seems to be gaining ground among many Christologists here: that between the pre-Easter Jesus (a human being, albeit a unique human being, the manifestation of God on earth) and the post-Easter Jesus (fully divine). In my own personal system of belief, this strikes me as a reasonable statement of the case, though hardly a crucial one. The distinction between, on the one hand, the flesh-and-blood human who worked miracles, performed incredible acts of healing, and mesmerized audiences as small as that of one woman from Samaria or as large as a throng of thousands, and, on the other, one actually incarnating the divine seems to me small.
I value it chiefly for the justified weight that it attaches to the fact that Jesus arose from the ignominy and torture of his execution as acommon criminal to revisit his disciples and then ascend into andcoalesce with the presence of the Almighty.
Is the Easter story true? No one "knows," and least of all I. WallaceStevens might well be right (in the poem "Sunday Morning"): "The tomb inPalestine / Is not the porch of spirits lingering./ It is the grave of Jesus where he lay." Paul, whose letters antedated the Gospels, does notmention it.
The idea of resurrection itself comes from Hebrew scripture, where it refers, however, not to the individual but to the entire people, brought back to life after exile and bondage.
Yet it seems to me -- if you will forgive a pun on so serious amatter -- immaterial whether a decaying body was left in the tomb, for oneneed not suppose that the many accounts of visitation by the resurrectedChrist must indicate more than a manifestation of the spirit. In any case, the plainest evidence for the truth of the resurrectionis the existence of Christianity today. The followers who feltdisillusioned and betrayed by the hideous and shameful disaster of theCross would hardly have laid the foundations of the church had not Jesus,in some astonishing form, brought them back to their faith.
You might be thinking that I should have stuck to my original plan for today's column. I might be thinking the same. Be that as it may, I wish all my readers joy and peace at this Easter season.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofComparative Literature at Princeton University.