Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 9, 2001
The 'offence' of the Cross
Meaning of Easter being lost in era of the unchurched
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
Easter, the holiest festival of the Christian year, is still observed as a civic holiday in Canada, but one suspects that its true significance is lost on most of the largely unchurched baby boomers and the even less-churched generations following in their wake.
Today's multiculturalism mania begs the question of how long a commemoration of Jesus Christ's Resurrection from the dead can remain a public holiday in this society. Christmas has already been replaced in some venues by the politically-correct "Winterfest." Can "Springfest" be far behind, so as to avoid offending the sensibilities of religious minorities and atheists.
However, the Cross of Jesus Christ has always been offensive. The prophet Isaiah refers to the Messiah as "a rock of offence." St. Paul speaks of the "offence of the cross" in his letter to the Galatians. Display of the cross by Christians has frequently tended to arouse antagonism, in its symbolic claim that the only route to the kingdom of God is the way of the Cross.
The question Easter confronts us with is: "Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion, or didn't he?" If he didn't, then Christianity is a fraud and a sham, and those who call themselves Christians ought to give up the charade and stop propagating a lie. However, if Jesus did rise, then the souls of those who reject him are in dire peril.
What evidence have we that Jesus rose? That his body disappeared from the tomb seems to have been widely acknowledged. Roman soldiers, the government and Jewish Temple authorities all accepted that without controversy. So what happened to the body?
If religious enemies had stolen it, why did they not produce it when the Apostles began preaching about the Resurrection? If thieves stole it, why did they leave the expensive grave-clothes behind?
If it were stolen by the disciples themselves, it's not credible that they would have been willing to suffer hideous persecution and death under torture for preaching that Christ had risen, without someone breaking down and recanting. A man might be prepared to die for a mistaken conviction, but few would be prepared to suffer like that for what he knew was a lie.
The Bible says over 500 people saw Jesus on 10 different occasions after the Resurrection. Then there is the matter of Jesus' own promise to come back to life. If he did not keep the promise then he was a liar and a disappointment to his followers and unlikely to inspire martyrdom.
It is, of course, politically incorrect to insist that there is one unique way of salvation, and to assert that one religion is "truer" than the others. But Christianity is founded on belief in a risen Jesus Christ, and once that is affirmed, it is absurd to claim that other religions and teachers are his equals in any sense.
He either rose on Easter Day - or he did not. If he really did rise, the implications are profoundly and magnificently overwhelming.
If Christ is who he said he was, then he is not just a God for Christians, but God the Creator of the universe, and his spiritual authority over that creation and everyone in it is absolute. If he was lying, or mistaken about himself, why should anyone want to be a Christian? The question the Christian Gospel confronts us with is: "What think ye of Christ?"
There is simply no logical or defensible basis for being "a little bit" or "moderately" Christian. As St. Paul affirmed: "If Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching in vain, your faith also is in vain. . . . If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable."
Unfortunately, most churches today do a largely ineffectual job of conveying the Easter message in the face of aggressive secularization. "The tragedy," wrote Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, "is not that Christian truth is never uttered, but that it is uttered in such a way that at last the generality of men attach to it no significance whatever. . . . Now it is spirited and the sign of a deep nature not to believe. . . . Splendid result attained by Christendom!"
That Christian faith still survives in the hearts and lives of so many, after long years of neglect, derision and attack from self-styled cultural elites, often including the Churches' own leaders, seems truly miraculous. Unless, of course, Jesus Christ really is "the way, the truth and the life."
Perhaps the folks who believe Christ died for their sins and rose triumphantly are influenced by something more profound than hopeful delusion, when they declare joyfully on Easter morning that "Christ is risen!" That's what Easter is really about.
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