Pascha (Easter Sunday)
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
April 17, 2022 10:30 AM
Acts 10:34A;37-42 | Psalm 118:1-2;16-17;22-23
Colossians 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”
The celebration of Easter goes beyond a merely historical reenactment of Christ’s Resurrection. Easter is the great celebration of the victory of life over death. Easter is an affirmation of life. Easter is a statement that the highest human value is life itself.
In our church, we have an icon of Mary Magdalene holding a red egg. Normally, this icon is on the wall in the rear of the church, but today, I have brought it forward because it is highly significant for Easter Sunday when we celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection.
Who is Mary Magdalene, and why is she important? Contrary to Pope Gregory’s silly little opinion in the Sixth Century, she was not a sex worker. Multiple scholars have determined such an idea is absolute nonsense. Rather, Mary Magdalene was among the most devoted followers of Jesus. She was with him when he suffered death on the cross. And most importantly, all four canonical gospels have her at the grave of Jesus on the day of the Resurrection.
Today’s reading from the Gospel according to John has Jesus engaging in conversation with Mary Magdalene wherein he told her to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection to others. And that is exactly what she did. She announced to the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”
Mary Magdalene is often called “the apostle to the apostles.” An apostle is a commissioned agent sent out, in a Christian sense to tell the good news. Anyone who doubts whether women are capable of the essence of ordained ministry, the essence of which is to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ, need look no further than Mary Magdalene on the day of the Resurrection.
But why is Mary Magdalene holding a red egg as she Is in our icon of her? Eastern Christians say that Mary Magdalene was bringing cooked eggs to share with the other women at the tomb of Jesus, and the eggs in her basket miraculously turned bright red when she saw the risen Christ.
Another story concerns Mary Magdalene’s efforts to spread the Gospel. According to this tradition, after the Ascension of Jesus, Mary went to the Emperor of Rome and greeted him with “Christ has risen,” whereupon he pointed to an egg on his table and stated, “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.” After making this statement the egg immediately turned blood red. Truly, Mary Magdalene had great powers as an evangelist.
Easter eggs are very much a part of the symbols associated with Easter. Eggs are the beginning of life for all creatures, including not only birds and reptiles, but mammals as well. Easter eggs communicate that Easter is all about new life.
Easter announces the new existence of Jesus.
Easter announces the transformation of Jesus from an earthly body into a spiritual body.
In celebrating Easter, we experience the recreation of the world.
In celebrating Easter, we experience the new and unending day of the Kingdom of God.
Easter is an exodus to God-created human freedom from the bondage of sin.
The ancient name for Easter, still used by Eastern Christians, is “Pascha.” The origin of the WORD Easter comes from the Germanic name for the month in which Pascha fell, which is “Eostre.” Easter is more properly called “Pascha” because it celebrates the Paschal Mystery.
What is the Paschal Mystery? The Paschal Mystery of Jesus comprises his passion, death, resurrection, and glorification. In the most simple terms, the Paschal Mystery is dying and rising. We see manifestations of the Paschal Mystery all around us all the time. For example, in a four-season climate, Summer brings vibrancy and life, which then segues to Autumn, when leaves on the trees die and fall away and many plants seem to die. Winter comes and with it the frost and chill that seem to halt all growth and life. But after winter, when it seemed as if everything had died, spring arrives with its new life that surrounds us. In our personal lives, relationships with people die when we become estranged but are brought back to life when people forgive and reconcile.
For Christians, the Paschal Mystery of Jesus stands at the center of the Christian faith. We recall and celebrate it during every Eucharist. Our tradition is that Jesus instituted the Eucharist during a Passover celebration. Thus, the Eucharist and Passover are inextricably entwined.
So much of what we do as Christians have Jewish roots. As recounted in the Book of Exodus, God commanded Moses to tell the Israelites to mark a lamb’s blood above their doors in order that the Angel of Death would pass over them. Paschal refers to the passage of God’s destroying angel on the night of Passover. The angel “passed over” the houses of the Israelites but killed the firstborn child in the houses of the Egyptians. Moses then led the Israelites from Egypt through the Red Sea to freedom in the Promised Land. The people of Israel were liberated.
Easter is liberation for all humanity. At the very deepest level of their souls, all people want to be liberated. As much as some people look for physical, economic, and emotional security from strong leaders, the ultimate desire of all human persons is freedom. Authoritarian leadership looks attractive at the beginning but soon loses its luster. And don’t think authoritarian leaders are just a right-wing phenomenon. The world has left-wing authoritarians as well. People want freedom from both kinds. To put that in everyday terms, people want freedom from laws in Russia restricting gay relationships and from covid lockdowns in China, the United States, and elsewhere. The human desire for freedom is universal.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that the daily news is filled with stories about many kinds of liberation. We hear about Black Liberation. We hear about Women’s Liberation. We hear about Latino Liberation. We hear about Children’s Liberation. What the Church has, however, is Liberation Theology.
What is liberation theology? Simply put, Liberation Theology looks at life from the perspective of the least among us rather than the perspective of the one percent. Liberation theology has at its foundation the simple idea that in the struggles of poor and oppressed people against their powerful and rich oppressors, God sides with the oppressed against the oppressors.
Those who use Christianity as a pillar to support these established institutions of society are biblically ignorant. Contrary to the thinking of those who defend the value of powerful societal institutions like governments, schools, labor unions, political parties, and multinational corporations, God clearly favors the ninety-nine percent at the bottom over the one percent at the top. Why? Rhetorical denials to the contrary, the people at the top of those pyramids think of themselves first when push comes to shove and use the combined machinery of government and religion to maintain power to defend their interests. This has been universally true throughout human history.
The relationship between the human desire for freedom and the Paschal Mystery forces us to deal with Christology, that is, the question of who Jesus Christ really is. Those who uphold oppression and domination in the name of Christianity are illegitimate and must be unmasked by opposition and conflict. However, the Christ of oppressive Christologies really has two faces.
On the one side, are all the Christs of the power establishment, who do not need to fight because they already hold a position of dominance. This is Christology of domination.
On the other are all the Christs of established impotence, who cannot fight against the dominance to which they are subject. This is the Christology of submission.
Both those two alternatives are equally bad. So, what is a better way?
The answer is called Christus Victor. The term “Christus Victor” comes from the title of a book written in 1931 by Gustav Aulén, a Swedish Lutheran bishop. His book is a historical study of atonement theories throughout the history of the church from its inception up to the early twentieth century.
Based on his study of the early church fathers, Aulén contrasts what he identifies as the “classic” and “Latin” views of the atonement, showing how the “classic” view, that is, Christus Victor, was predominant for the first thousand years of the church’s history until it was gradually replaced by the “Latin” view of the cross as exemplified by Anselm in his theory of legal “satisfaction.”
Anselm was the seminal theorist behind the penal substitution theory of atonement, the untrue notion that Jesus died on the cross to suffer punishment for the sins of humanity in order to satisfy a harsh, judgmental God’s desire for so-called “justice.” In my Good Friday homily, I discussed in detail the reasons why Penal Substitution is utter nonsense. Because this doctrine is so near and dear to the hearts of conservative evangelical Christians, I received quite a hostile response when I posted my homily online.
But their hostility to my ideas is irrelevant to me. Christus Victor makes much more sense than Penal Substitution. Christus Victor is a picture of God in Christ liberating humanity out of bondage from sin, death, and the devil. Thus we could say that the “classic” view is characterized by a central theme of liberation in the context of restorative justice, whereas the later “Latin” view is characterized by a central theme of appeasement in the context of retributive justice.
Let’s compare and contrast these two concepts.
In the Latin punitive model, the reason the Messiah came was to pay a penalty.
In the restorative model. the reason the Messiah came was to liberate and restore.
In the punitive model, the reason the Messiah needed to be sinless is to present a perfect offering.
In the restorative model, the reason the Messiah needed to be sinless is to present a model of God’s heart and God’s Kingdom.
In the punitive model, the reason the Messiah had to suffer is to appease authority.
In the restorative model, the reason the Messiah had to suffer is to free us from the grip of false authority—to liberate us from sin, death, and the devil.
The biblical roots of Christus Victor are found in the Old Testament’s story of the exodus out of slavery in Egypt. Through the exodus story, Jews understood who they were, who God was, and made sense of their world: They were a people who belonged to a God who had miraculously led them into freedom. Their hope was that God would again bring them out of exile and into the reign of God, bringing with it justice and restoration.
While the enemies in the exodus story were other people (the Egyptians), the “enemy” in the gospels is evil itself. Moreover, in Jesus, all of humanity is the recipient of God’s deliverance, rather than one particular ethnic group, as in the exodus. Christ’s death is therefore analogous to Passover and at the same time, in these significant ways, quite different from it.
Many, if not most, first-century Jews expected the messiah to be a man of war, and for the liberation to come through violent force. We see this reflected in the disciples’ own expectations for Jesus. Jesus, however, did not come to take life, but to give his own life. The gospel of Jesus is indeed about a messianic “victory” over evil and injustice, but that messianic victory does not come through violent conquest and military force. It comes through restoration and healing.
In the New Testament, a shift occurred where the same vocabulary of liberation is now used to speak, not of overcoming enemy nations, but of overcoming the Enemy in us and in our world. The New Testament redefines the Enemy as the forces of evil. Jesus wins over the forces of evil, the forces of oppression, the forces that cause people to go naked, be homeless, and hungry.
Easter is the victory of the Kingdom of God, where all those wrongs will be righted in a word made new. All throughout the Bible, we find that God always champions the cause of those who are poor and beaten down as they struggle for dignity, freedom, and economic justice.
When the children of Israel cry out for help as they suffer the agonies of their enslavement under Pharaoh, God hears their cry and joins them in their fight for freedom. God sides with the Jews as they seek deliverance from Egyptian domination. God drowns the Egyptians in the Red Sea as they chase after the Israelites to prevent them from escaping to freedom.
Later on, when the Israelites are settled in the Holy Land, rich and powerful people there emerge. They live affluently without regard for the sufferings of the poor. Responding to their indifference, God raises up prophets to decry the plight of the poor and call the rich to repent. The prophets of ancient Israel challenged, in the name of God, what was happening to those who were victimized in an unjustly stratified society.
When we come to the New Testament, we find that Jesus also comes as a liberator. Mary, the mother of Jesus, responds to the annunciation that she will give birth to the Messiah by claiming that it will one day be said of her soon-to-be-born Son. You can find that in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It reads,
“…He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent away empty.”
Jesus himself, in his initial synagogue sermon, declares that He has come to bring “good news for the poor” and to “preach deliverance to the captives.”
The common theme in all these stories is that what God wants is a Great Reversal, a world turned upside down. The social implications of this biblical theme of liberation have been taken up by a variety of oppressed groups over the past fifty years.
Christian feminists have claimed that Jesus came to liberate women from oppression—especially as oppression of women manifests itself in certain Islamic countries, as well as in the male domination encouraged by some forms of Christianity.
Gays who are Christians also have made Jesus their liberator as they have fought for dignity and acceptance in what they believe to be a homophobic society.
But the ultimate liberation is the Resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection of Jesus is freedom from sin and death. Why is that important? Because sin leads to death.
When people do bad stuff, they experience spiritual death.
When people do bad stuff, they experience alienation from God.
The remedy for spiritual death and for alienation is liberation. Easter is liberation. The Resurrection liberates us from sin. The Resurrection brings us back from spiritual death to restore our relationship with God. Liberation is the Paschal Mystery made real for us. The Resurrection liberates humanity from death.
We don’t deny the presence of evil in the world in its various forms: violence, hunger, oppression, homelessness – but the Resurrection is a statement that by Jesus, even death itself can be overcome.
If Jesus can overcome death, the world can overcome poverty, disease, hunger, and oppression of human rights. All of these things come from human social structures, and how humanity organizes its affairs, not from God. Too often we look at these issues from purely an individual perspective when the problem is partly systemic.
The idea of each person assuming personal responsibility for their own survival sounds good, but in practice it is a failure because people compete against one another for survival, leading to a “me first” mentality where only the fittest survive. Substantial, and very practical pragmatic problems exist with how capitalist societies allocate land, food, medical care, and wealth. Relying on market forces does not always produce fair and just results.
The commercialization of today’s world has turned everything, even the most sacred things, such as human organs, water, and the capacity of flowers to be pollinated, into an opportunity to gain wealth. Most countries feel obliged to participate in the globally integrated macro-economy and are much less inclined to serve the common good of their people. What about having the economy serve the common good, instead of the common good serving the economy?
Jesus is Easter.
Easter is Jesus.
Christ is risen from the dead and shall die no more, Alleluia! Death has no more dominion over him; Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!