How, in light of what I wrote about Good Friday, do I understand Easter? In other words, according to the model I grew up with, the resurrection evidenced God’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for sin. However, if the crucifixion isn’t God punishing Jesus, but is Jesus taking our violence, hatred, and anger upon himself, and leaving them in the grave, what is Easter supposed to mean?
I argue that different biblucal authors have different perspectives. While they all hold to the broader perspective outlined above, they each have a different nuance. In this post, I explore the synoptic Gospel accounts. I’m not including John because it is at the core of reframing God’s glory in Friday’s post. If you want, you can read a more expansive version of this post in Chapter 2 of my dissertation, Re-Storying God: Re-Imagining the God of the Bible and Re-Enchanting Our Neo-Secular Selves.
Easter in Matthew
Broadly speaking, in Matthew, Jesus embodies the story of Israel in his own life and offers a corrective to the Judaism of his day. We see this in two ways:
- Jesus’ life patterns that of Israel. The surviving the slaughter of the innocents like Moses, to coming up out of Egypt, and Jesus’ time in the wilderness are three examples of how Matthew positions Jesus as a representative of the people of Israel.
- Jesus’ teaching reinterprets the Hebrew Bible. Matthew moves his narrative forward through extended times of Jesus’ teaching. One example is the Sermon on the Mount, which reinterprets the Law and repeatedly invites the masses to think of God as their loving heavenly Father (5-7). At the close of this discourse, the people are in awe because he teaches with authority (7:29). As the narrative unfolds, Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven that undermines the social order of the day. Ultimately it drives towards the religious leaders to confront Jesus, asking the source of his authority (21:23). When he refuses to answer the move towards executing him.
In Matthew, the crucifixion if a battle for interpretive authority. The leaders of the day refuse to accept Jesus’ teaching on the Law and the Kingdom of God. They reject the notion of God as an intimate and loving heavenly Father. Good Friday is the Jewish leadership’s statement that their interpretation is true. Easter Sunday is God’s response. Then, at the Great Commission, the risen Jesus declares all authority is given to him and he invites all people to embrace his interpretation of what it means to be God’s chosen people.
Easter in Mark
Instead of rooting his narrative in the formation of Israel through the Exodus, Mark focuses on the people of Israel leaving exile in Babylon and returning to their homeland. It is the journey of leaving a foreign power and to live under the rule and reign of God. However, the foreign power most of us know (at least in the West) is comfortable and certain, making it difficult to leave behind.
Mark centers on the outcast and downtrodden. He elevates the people trampled on by social structures and institutions. The least are the focus of Mark. Therefore, for anyone who isn’t poor, impoverished, neglected, ignored, or oppressed, Mark is nearly impossible to embrace because we are the enemy.
As the story moves forward, Jesus repeatedly binds the effects on Satan on various aspects of daily life, including nature, human bodies, and religious/social structures. Each example reveals what life looks like under the rule and reign of God. However, this creates conflict, especially for the religious and social structure which benefit from the kingdom of this age. This conflict ultimately drives the account towards the crucifixion.
However, contrary to expectation, Mark provides little hope at the end of his account. Instead, as the women run from the tomb afraid, the reader is left asking, “What am I going to do now?” There are two options. Remain comfortable in the religious/social world you know and understand, or take up your own cross and embrace the witness of the radical Jesus.
Easter in Luke
Instead of rooting his account in the history of Israel, Luke goes back to Scripture’s first man, Adam. Both are sons of God and each is the first in a lineage of followers. Those who follow Adam live according to their own image while those follow Christ live according to God’s. With this frame, the Gospel is the account of Jesus forming a new people who will live in the way of Jesus, a people first introduced in the book of Acts.
As Jesus journeys toward his return to the Father, he helps his followers envision what it means to image God. This includes their relationship with God, life as a child of God, and remaining in a relationship with God.
The dilemma climaxes with the release of Barabbas, whose name literally means, “son of the father.” The people choose the Son of Adam over the Son of God. But despite the world’s choice, the Jesus movement continues with the resurrection, the ascension, and the coming of the Spirit.
Again, the reader is left with a question, “Who’s image will you live by?”
The Impact of Easter
While each of the four Gospel accounts is different, there is a common theme. In each, the author presents a Jesus who proclaims that God isn’t what we assume God is like. Moreover, he declares that human flourishing is radically different than what we tend to experience in everyday life.
As I write this I find myself asking, do I dare to embrace my identity in light of who Jesus reveals God to be? Can I find myself and a community I belong in through a loving father, an embracer of the outcast, and a relentless pursuer?
Do I risk finding my purpose in God’s mission in the world? Can I step into life as part of a people living out impassioned love, radicals who embrace the least is our world, and re-envisioned humans reflecting the divine image into the world?
Perhaps. But only if Jesus way is real. Is Jesus’ vision of God accurate? As revolutionary as it is, could the life Jesus invites us to embrace be legitimate?
Repeatedly in the Gospels, that is the point of Easter. Easter and the resurrection are God’s way of saying, “Yes!”Easter and the resurrection are God’s way of saying, “Yes!” Click To Tweet
The only question is if we’ll take up our crosses and follow him.