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By Luke Hawley
Belief isn’t something that comes easy to me; I have heavy skeptic leanings.
But I’m a writer, too, and one who can’t quite clamp down all the romantic bursts bubbling up in my blood.
This makes Easter a wonderfully complicated event for me. The son of God? Risen from the dead? Hard to square in a properly cut-and-measured modern world. But the tension of three days in the grave? The last hour redemption? The blacked-out sky, the broken earth—this is the stuff of story, the stuff that rumbles under my skeptic skin. It’s the unmeasurable, sometimes unspeakable stuff of desire.
I want badly for the world to be made of magic, for there to be space for surprise, for God to crack open the heavens and pour Himself out into the world for the sake of all of us. It’s why I prefer stories and songs to scales and yardsticks, quantity and capacity—there is a thing that happens in the middle of good story or a good song, where I can feel the fabric of unreality, beyond the bounds of body, like maybe I’m a part of everything and everything’s a part of me, measured by the metrics of miracle and magic and mystery.
But of course that’s a false dichotomy: There’s plenty of room in the calculated and calibrated world for surprise and miracle. And if the first paragraph is too abstract for you (and who would blame you for thinking that?), I have two tactile things to listen to this Easter, almost practical in their application:
Radiolab’s From Tree to Shining Tree. This is my favorite metaphor for understanding the mystery of Easter. Underneath the floor of a forest, all the trees are connected, and when one tree is on the brink of giving up its ghost, it pours out its energy into the entire forest—not just trees of its own kind, but any tree that could use a boost. I’m a podcast junkie and I’ve listened to hundreds of hours, but I think about this episode more than any other thing I’ve heard. It turns out that all of creation is built for incarnation, for a good and proper pouring out. If it wasn’t science, I’d call it a miracle (and I’m more than happy to call it both).
Page France’s Jesus. This is my favorite picture of Christ on Easter:
Jesus will come through the ground, so dirty
With worms in his hair and a hand so sturdy
To call us his magic, we call him worthy
Jesus came up from the ground so dirty
The hardest part of Easter for me—and my very favorite part—is the mystery of humanity colliding with the divine. I can’t speak for Michael Nau’s theology, but the picture that he paints of Christ coming up from the ground, covered in dirt and worms, to call us magic—I’ve not run across a picture that so clearly paints that unknowable dissonance. And! To call us his magic. What a lovely thought—the knowing unknowable. And that’s just the first chorus. May your Easter be a time of miracle and magic and mystery—and celebration:
And Jesus will dance as we drink his wine
With soldiers and thieves and a sword in his side
And we will be joy and we will be right
Jesus will dance as we drink his wine
We don’t know one another’s stories or skepticism, but no matter. This is gift to me. Thank you.
On a morning when I’m struggling to get up to go to church, this speaks to me in a tangible earthy way that rainbows in the sky would not. Thank you. I needed gritty not glittery today.
I find myself alone this sunny Easter morning in the very early stages of recovery from a complicated foot surgery. Baskets, bunnies and jelly beans are stowed deep in a closet somewhere. The mystery of my own healing, miniscule in scale compared with Christ’s birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection – holds my faith hostage today.
In this all too quiet space, uninterrupted today by the tasks and traditions of Easters past, your words have brought me important gifts. Thank you for reminding me of our connectedness, of the decomposition and death that preceeds growth and renewal, and of the greatest Love and Mystery of all. My mind, my body and my faith are miniscule-perhaps by design- so that the Mystery might be revealed to me in my weakness. He is risen.
Thanks, Luke, for the Christian skeptic’s take on Easter. I don’t really believe that you are as much of a skeptic as you make yourself out to be. After all, you teach English at Dordt. But you do touch onto the feelings of most true skeptics. The Easter message is more than complicated for the skeptic. As you suggest in your third paragraph, it’s improbable. Jesus, the son of God? Risen from the dead? Add to that, Jesus, the second person of a Triune God come down to earth as a human baby, lived a sinless life (what a good boy he was), performed a boat load of miracles, was rejected, crucified, died, and was in the grave for three days and then “risen from the dead.” And let’s not forget his ascension into heaven and his present reign from heaven.
Talk about improbable or unlikely. Wow! That’s as unbelievable as the stories of other religions. It doesn’t just take a skeptic’s doubt, but even common sense says, highly unlikely. Why do we discount the miracles and teachings of other religions when ours are just as bazaar? They claim infallibility for their Scriptures, absolute truthfulness, same as us for our Bible. What makes us right and all other religions wrong? It can’t be that Christianity is so rational. So what is it?
Why is that the “big” miracles today (receiving an appearance from a dead person; being cured of an inability to walk) only happen to Pentecostals and Roman Catholics? What is the explanation for this??