The Terror of Easter

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Hans Holbein the Younger

“Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

~ Karl Marx

I used to think this claim had at least some merit. And I suppose to the degree a given religion gets reduced to wishful thinking about some version of an upgraded “afterlife,” Marx is right. But no religion reduces itself to such platitudes, despite what its adherents might at a popular level. And as for the claims of the the Gospel, and specifically the resurrection of the dead, I’m left to conclude precisely the opposite: atheism is the opiate of the masses.

If Jesus stays in the tomb, it means that the world can continue on its course, unaccountable, free of any absolutes–other than death–and so we can shrug off that nagging Voice of our conscience without consequence. If Jesus stays in the tomb, there is no Lord to answer to, no Voice from without, only fleeting, if competing, echoes from within, and at any rate all voices are moving toward a finality of silence. All fades to black.

That, to me at least, seems much easier to deal with than the prospect of the destruction of death itself, of darkness itself, the prospect that I will be raised from the dead into a light that will expose the truth behind all my words and deeds and the thoughts and intentions of my heart (Mk. 4:22; Lk. 12:2; Jn. 3:19-21; 1 Cor. 3:13; Heb. 4:12-13; et al). It’s much easier to imagine death brings a certain finality to all that I have done and not done, said and not said, all that I have thought and intended, to all the willfully missed opportunities to love and help and give and forgive, to my violence, my greed, my self-indulgence, my insistence that ‘my will be done.’ Practically, I confess, that I have repeatedly claimed lordship over my own life, so the thought that I have a Lord who will greet me in judgment to examine the substance of my confession—that Jesus Christ is Lord—is, quite frankly, unsettling.

I can’t help but think it would be far easier to make peace with death if I could anticipate a closure to all of my deeds and misdeeds, rather than anticipating that my life and my will and my secret thoughts and intentions are wide open to an eternal future, a future in which I am decidedly not Lord and death is not an option, a future from which that nagging Voice I’ve so often ignored has, all along, been issued from a throne, a throne that alone is Absolute.

There was terror that first Easter (Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:36-43). And I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. The world has lost its autonomy. Death no longer affords any escape routes. Life is laid bare to an infinite existence that we know now only as a Voice, and often just a faint Whisper, but then we shall see Him face to face. And thank the living God that on that day we will stand in his presence only by grace.

What a glorious—what a terrifying—day tomorrow will be.

“Then I turned to see the Voice that was speaking to me…and when I saw Him, I fell as though dead” (Rev. 1:12-17).

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