The cross of Jesus is not an isolated transaction that changes the divine relationship to humanity.
Rather, as I noted yesterday, it seems to be a disclosure of the pattern of God’s relationship to the human family all along.
Continuing the reflection on the pattern of the testimony, which is the covenant community’s expression of their creative encounter with God, we can notice that God’s response to Egypt was the liberation from bondage we know as the Exodus – the primary reference point for Israel’s faith.
More than just a decisive event in history, it is a profound and defining experience in the human journey in all generations. “We were slaves in Pharaoh’s Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of there” (see Deuteronomy 6:21).
Moving forward, after Israel’s decline and fall that led to the Exile, the Persian ruler Cyrus is named in the testimony as God’s “anointed” agent (“Christos” in the Greek text – Isaiah 45:1) of restoration, who made possible a return and rebuilding.
Neither Egypt nor Babylon had the last word in the story of the covenant people.
In the third act of our superimposed drama in the testimony, Easter brings the mysterious experience of Christ’s resurrection, which offers the final verdict on the claim of the cross to have thwarted God’s redemptive agenda.
Seeing Easter in the context of the Bible’s larger testimony of covenant faith helps us see beyond a focus on “what Jesus did” to seeing through its lens to “who God is.”
I have begun to wonder if we run the risk of shortchanging a reality like Easter by isolating it as a special holiday or even insisting on a certain understanding of its particulars.
To be sure, it is a highly significant celebration in the life of the church, and it is often presented as the central affirmation of the Christian faith: “He is risen!”
And, its roots in concrete history remind us that the God we worship is a God who acts in history on behalf of God’s people and the rest of creation.
To remove any part of the covenant faith of the Bible from the arena of history into some metaphysical spiritual realm is to miss one of its clearest emphases:
- “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12)
- “He shall be called ‘Immanuel’ – God with us,” (Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23)
- “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)
- “The kingdom of God is within (or among) you” (Luke 17:21)
- “He is risen, and you will see him in Galilee” (Matthew 28:7)
- “Behold the dwelling of God is with humankind” (Revelation 21:3)
Our faith is a historical faith because we live in history, and it is in history that God promised to be with us.
But, even though our faith is rooted in history, it also looks beyond the windows of history to eternity, where the mystery of God and of life has a timeless quality.
This season, when all of Christendom celebrates the event of Easter, I wonder if it might be helpful to consider the resurrection of our Lord beyond the level of a historical remembrance?
Perhaps we should also think of it as a spiritual reality that points beyond the event to an eternal truth that we can embrace and share with the world as truly good news.
In this way of thinking, Jesus – his life, death and resurrection – becomes the incarnation of a truth that lies beyond him – the mystery of eternal life – and we look with his help to a God whose nature is creative, redemptive and eternal.
Easter would not represent a change in God’s character or God’s relation to the world. Rather, it would reveal what God’s character has been all along, and the way God has and will deal with the world.
But herein lies the problem: If we allow ourselves to focus too much attention on the specific details of the event or the pointer, we may not see the truth it is pointing to.
There is more to this truth than the volume of our claims that Christ is the savior who “makes us right with God.”
In him, God invites us not only to see his special birth, but to see in every birth an incarnation; not only to see his agony on the cross, but to see in every agony God’s participation in suffering; and not only to behold the empty tomb on Easter morning, but to embrace a God of history and eternity, with whom all tombs are empty.
“He is risen!” Indeed – and with him so is all of life. Alleluia – thanks be to God!
Colin Harris is professor emeritus of religious studies at Mercer University and a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.
Professor emeritus of religious studies at Mercer University, a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and the author of Keys for Everyday Theologians (Nurturing Faith Books, 2022).