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By Joshua Vis

Only Jesus has experienced Lent and Easter.

For the rest of us, life is Lent. We know only a life of Lent. Except we strive to avoid entering into the suffering and despair of life.

The resurrection (and Lent) has taught us to mourn our existence, to wish for something different, something better. We focus on suffering, mortality, and death just before Easter, with Easter providing us with an emotional reprieve.

But a literal Easter reprieve doesn’t exist for us. Literal resurrection never happens. Maybe it will happen someday. Honestly I have no idea if it will or if we should want it to. I’m interested in a practical question: What is the function of wishing for a different kind of existence?

Orthodox Christian doctrine views the dismissal of Adam and Eve from the garden as an exile. No matter your view on the historicity of Adam and Eve, liberal and conservative Christians alike profess that humanity lives in exile, meaning some better existence is to be desired and sought. Though Adam and Eve never mourned leaving the garden, and though their choice made them like God (something we celebrate in Genesis 1), we have turned their story into the ultimate tragedy.

Jesus seemed to affirm the tragedy as he came proclaiming a major change to the world order. The kingdom of God would come and things would be better. Yet again Christian doctrine asks us to live in anticipation of something better, something that stubbornly refuses to arrive.

When we live in expectation that life will be better when our circumstances change in some significant or banal way, we often catch ourselves. We realize that waiting to live is no way to live. And if we don’t catch ourselves in that moment, we realize shortly after the desired change (new job, new TV, more money, whatever) that our anxieties and our insecurities have remained. Those things are hardwired into the human experience.

What then does the belief in the resurrection of Jesus get us in our day to day lives? Does the hope of having a second existence after death help us to live? Even as every single person dies, we are told that Jesus has conquered death. Don’t accept death; it’s a theological malfunction.

I don’t know what it means to live as though the resurrection of Jesus has freed me from death. I fear death. Jesus feared death according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The promise of resurrection does not seem to lead to the acceptance of mortality. There our inexplicable horrors in our world, horrors that no one understands, myself included. Resurrection does not erase those horrors, nor does it explain them. They remain horrible.

Many would contend that it doesn’t matter how the resurrection of Jesus functions in our lives. It accomplished salvation. Again, maybe that’s true, but I can’t see how that aids me as I work at living this life, the only life I know I get. What does eternal salvation have to do with the human condition? The human condition is inescapable and difficult (and beautiful and charming). We will not be saved from pain, suffering, rejection, fear, sadness, death; all the things we try to avoid or negate. They are unquestionably certain. What good is wishing that we might avoid them someday?

Pretend this quote from Jesus has nothing to do with resurrection and vindication, and everything to do with accepting this existence, making the most of this life: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’” (Mark 8:34)

Maybe taking up of one’s cross means accepting the difficulty of this life. Maybe experiencing the beauty of this life requires accepting it as it is, without understanding why and without the hope of something better. Maybe we should learn to love this life, rather than spending our time pining for a different one. Maybe it’s time to choose life before death. Maybe it’s time to choose Lent without Easter.

Joshua Vis

Joshua Vis serves as the Church Engagement Facilitator for Israel/Palestine with the Reformed Church in America.

7 Comments

  • mstair says:

    “Maybe taking up of one’s cross means accepting the difficulty of this life. ”

    … yes … that’s part of it
    but He also said,
    ” I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one. They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15-16).

    As The People of God, the realization of our Easter still comes every year – as The Holy Spirit reminds us through Paul – “we were dead, He has brought us to life, saved by God’s Grace, raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus.”

    Life is getting especially difficult. This year, The Holy Spirit is very welcome – to make Easter real for all of us who need it.

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    I agree that only Jesus has experienced Lent and Resurrection, so in a sense we have only Lent without Easter. But we do need to do what Peterson says about Ephesians, “Practice Resurrection.” We do so by growing up into Christ. As Peterson says in his introduction, “When we practice resurrection, we continually enter into what is more than we are. When we practice resurrection, we keep company with Jesus, alive and present, who knows where we are going better than we do, which is always, “from glory unto glory.” Without Jesus alive and present, Lent is too long and too hard. Only with Jesus, can we do it till we die.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Joshua, I think I get your main drift, but “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, being conformed to his death, in the fellowship of his suffering, so that I may attain somehow the resurrection of the dead.” I don’t think St. Paul, in Philippians, sees it as either / or. And how is living in the power of the resurrection (whether before or after death) a “different life?” For many, maybe, yes, but not necessarily. At least not in my view. But then I hold very much a minority view on these things. Anyway, thanks for risking this.

  • Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell says:

    Thanks Josh, for a provocative post. A couple things that flashed as I was reading–and I don’t mean them to be opposed or contrary to what you’re trying to say. First, is Jesus the only one to experience Easter? What about the first disciples and friends? Scripture points to their confusion and fear, but it seems something must have happened to them to explain what they did over the next decades. Borrowing from one my favorite images of resurrection given to me by Daniel Meeter, if the resurrection was the “little bang” (similar to the big bang), then with both bangs aren’t we living in the energy generated, the aftermath, even if we weren’t there? Second, I am always inspired and a little haunted by the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

  • Joshua Vis says:

    Thanks for the helpful comments. I don’t have any retorts, just wanted to say thanks for helping me think about this reflection.

  • Mark Bjelland says:

    Your post reminds me of a Lutheran colleague whose sermons often focused on either Christ’s self-emptying (kenosis) or God’s silence while Christ was on the cross. I often wondered whether his favorite Scripture was, “my God, my God why has thou forsaken me?” In these passages, my colleague found a Christianity compatible with mid-century existentialism and the Buddhist doctrine of non-self. But, such a conception of Christ didn’t seem to leave room for the cosmic Christ of Colossians, the pervasive joy in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, or Paul’s hope for the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

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