Except for a couple years when I was in the wilderness, I have partaken each Easter in at least one liturgical celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As a cathedral chorister, I have often assisted in the celebration of four or five in the year, beginning at 9 PM on Easter Eve and stretching to 5 PM the next day. So I have heard about – let’s see – about 114 Easter sermons. Never once, in any of those homilies, was the fact of the Resurrection ever directly addressed. They generally spoke instead about God’s love, and his power – working in us, of course – to make things in the world all nice and fair, and to heal broken relationships. At most, preachers refer to the Resurrection as the context for their message of hope for renewed worldly life, as if it were a literary device or a metaphor. They never grapple with it directly.*
This has always amazed me. On Easter morning, preachers have their best opportunity of the year, after Christmas, to tackle head on one of the biggest stumbling blocks to faith, before a large audience of unbelievers, or proto-believers, or quasi-believers, or wannabe-but-don’t-know-how-believers, or those who have fallen away from the faith but remember their homeland with nostalgic affection, and would like to return if they could see a way to do so. It is, i.e., a fantastic opportunity for evangelization – not to swell the attendance rolls, but to save souls. Yet they all seem to shy away from the main thing that Easter is about: a dead man come to life again. To a typical modern, the story of the Resurrection looks like – well, it looks like sheer nonsense, crazy talk about an impossibility. And that apparent insanity at the heart of Christianity makes the whole religion incredible, empty, vain, as St. Paul knew (I Corinthians 15:17). Credence in the Resurrection is crucial to conversion; without it, there is no such thing.
But preachers never talk about this difficulty. I cannot resist the conclusion that – perhaps because they are themselves typical moderns – most preachers simply don’t know how to think about the Resurrection, any more than their skeptical auditors on Easter morning. They may believe in it, but they don’t know how to talk about it.
This is a sad state of affairs, because there is nothing especially difficult about the Resurrection.
Provided, that is, that one has assumed the proper – as in, the correct – perspective.
From a late 19th century materialist perspective – the one that the elites are still stuck in, except for the physicists and a few philosophers who are aware of quantum mechanics – the Resurrection cannot fit into the world. Neither can consciousness, of course; but this fact never seems to trouble the materialists very much. Not enough, anyway, for them to call their materialism into question. Most of them seem content to wave their hands in the direction of Science: “we’ll figure it out someday, just you wait.” It’s the Science of the Gaps argument, don’t you see.
But fortunately for those inclined to believe in their own actual existence, the late 19th century materialist perspective is incorrect. The logic is easy, much easier than the scientific argument from quantum mechanics. It goes like this: If materialism is true, then there is no such thing really as meanings. This is part of what materialists mean, as it were, in saying that there is nothing but matter. The doctrine of materialism is therefore by its own lights utterly meaningless. But this means that materialism cannot be either true or false – for only meaningful statements can have truth value. Ergo, either materialism is false, or it is meaningless. Things don’t look so good for materialism!
The correct perspective, then, is non-materialist.
There is more to it than that, of course. For one thing, since as Gödel implicitly demonstrated, nature cannot explain itself, the correct perspective is supernaturalist. Nature must be a supernatural procedure: it must occur in the context of a prior supernatural order. There is no other way that it can begin to make sense. The fact that nature does make some sense to us, then, shows that there is supernature.
A few more moments of reflection will suffice to show that this supernature must itself be an actuality, for you can’t get even a bit of any sort of thing from a situation completely devoid thereof. And this same wonderfully powerful principle, ex nihilo nihil, forces us also to the conclusion that the supernatural actuality that is before our world, and all worlds, must (unlike worlds) be necessary, self-existent, and therefore eternal (these three terms are equivalent). It shows furthermore that the supernatural actuality must be perfect, and thus possess every positive property to an infinite degree. It must be infinitely good, powerful, wise, and so forth.
It shows, in other words, that the supernatural actuality must be just like what we mean by “God.”
Nature and her regularities, then, are entirely within the palm of God’s hand. And this includes the regularity by which our selves are replicated from one moment to the next, as living bodies, so that they concatenate in orderly fashion and constitute a life. Think about that. How does that happen? From a 19th century materialist point of view, it’s simply impossible, incomprehensible.
The you of this moment is effectually a resurrection of the you of a moment ago.
So the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is not harder to understand than our own existence. And since we cannot understand our own existence except as the intentional creation of an infinitely powerful God, it is no stretch at all to understand the Resurrection in the same way.
“Understand” in the foregoing ought, you understand, to be in scare quotes; for, the truth is that we cannot at all explain the fact of our existence, or of its continued regular reiteration. We can know that it is due to God, but truly to understand it would require that we understand it as God does. This we cannot ever do.
Now, what is the proper response to the discovery that one’s existence is a miraculous, free gift, provided over and over by a limitless being? Gratitude, to be sure; humility, also. But, mostly, worship.
A joyful Easter to you. The Lord is Risen; and so are we, all, with him. How can we tell? Well, here we all are, no? May we all choose to keep company forever with him as he rises.
* Here’s a well-meaning example from my inbox on Easter morning:
Easter is not a time for groping through dusty, musty tomes or tombs to disprove spontaneous generation or even to prove life eternal. It is a day to fan the ashes of dead hope, a day to banish doubts and seek the slopes where the sun is rising, to revel in the faith which transports us out of ourselves and the dead past into the vast and inviting unknown.