Easter Reflection: On Mortality, Knowledge, and Strangeness.

“How strange it is to be anything at all!”, exclaims Jeff Mangum in one of my favorite songs.

It is a rather strange thing, indeed, to exist.  Maybe you don’t think so, you might think you have the answers for why we are here and where we are going, walking around with a “road map to life“. That’s ok. Personally, I find it eerie, upsetting, and rather awkward, that without your consent, without a choice, you were brought to existence, born from parents you did not choose, in a country you did not choose, taught and indoctrinated with customs and ideas about everything without ever been given a second to pause and think twice. Time keeps pushing you forward whether you like it or not, with every single choice you make remaining forever a part of your history, impacting you and others around you in infinite collaterality. Everyone who was here before you experienced this constant pressure from time, too. Everything they taught you was the best way they managed to figure out what exactly is going on, but not everyone concluded the same things, and who knows who is right?

Time never gives you a second chance. If you pay attention, you will notice decay and mortality all around you. Flowers blooming and withering, your own body changing, loved ones dying. Opportunities lost. Nothing can ever be undone, only reconciled. Offenses can never be taken aback, only forgiven.

It’s easy to feel insecure. It’s easy to want to detach, disconnect, to try and not suffer much. Maybe this life is not worth it. Maybe there is something else afterwards, and there was something before, that makes sense of all of this, because it cannot make sense in itself, can it?

So we come up with theories of reincarnations, heavens, hells, ethereal planes of pure forms, and all sorts of nonsense that we could not, by any means, actually know for a fact.

Easily our distress turns against the material plane, against our bodies, as the problem. We find relief in thinking that maybe our minds, our spirits, will go on after the body decays. We go to a “better place“, our bodies, and this earth, will not come with us to the afterlife. Ultimately, they do not matter. What matters is only our minds, only our spirits, only our intellects with our sense of righteousness and good intentions.

We fall into nihilism towards the earth and nature, towards our own bodies, towards our relationships. We pray for people’s souls but refuse to share our bread. We deem everything that is temporary as vain and meaningless, and we do not enjoy a bit of it. We despise life and seek refuge in death.

We build systems of belief to protect us from our existential insecurity, because we are too afraid to dare to not know.

It has always been our weak spot, that search for knowledge. Way back in Eden, we gave in to our insecurity when the Serpent reminded us how much we don’t know. That maybe if we knew, we would become like God. Maybe if we knew, we would not, really, die.

Referring to the story of Eden, saint Paul called Jesus the “last Adam”, the new, better, last arch-human. Our existential model. Paul says that Jesus did something which, if we are joined to him, corrects Eden. But this Jesus, the Divine Human, was portrayed in different ways by his followers, with a radical contrast between each portrayal. Which portrayal is Paul referring to? Historically, the Church has always emphasized that we should not harmonize the tales, but hold them together, even if paradoxically:

The Divine Logos Incarnate, the Christ found in the book of John, knew where he came from and where he was going to, telling his disciples not to fear, going ahead of them, dying with the powerful affirmation that “it is finished”, that the work of God in history was complete in that fateful day when God died.

Jesus of Nazareth, the paradoxical Jewish mystic and teacher found in the book of Mark (whom Matthew and Luke copy from, with their own commentaries), finds himself praying in fear of the Unknown, asking his Father to let the Cup of Wrath pass from him, becoming upset at his friends who do not understand the seriousness of the situation as he prays overnight, betrayed with a kiss, and dying with the cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.

Jesus, the better Adam, teaches us Πίστις: trust, which for some reason today we translate as faith. The Logos Incarnate fulfilled the cosmic plan He orchestrated before Time; One with God through Love, he knew things were in control, and he teaches us to find safety not in the knowledge, but in the assurance of Love, expressed in our real, tangible human love for each other. The human Jesus, however, walked into the unknown, experiencing abandonment, loneliness, and all the existential insecurity we also experience. He trusted God and walked to his own death. Mark portrays him very explicitly as someone who taught but did not give answers. He communicated through figures and parables that he did not explain. Such is our life: Figures and parables, events, moments, relationships, that have no answer, no explanation.

Facts do not tell stories, we do. In these stories, we find the teaching of the Reign of God. The work of the Theologian is to interpret both unexplained parables and unexplained events in history, from the Crucifixion to the Holocaust, and find God behind them. The Love of the Father, experienced in the Everything, expressed in our existential relationship to Self, to Other, and to Being itself. Often enough, however, the Theologian forgets that his interpretations are like that of a child, fun jest and imagination, not to be taken too seriously.

Still, the example of Jesus says the God hidden behind our stories is worth dying for. And here we are, again, at death. Here we are, again, in the Unknown.

Shouldn’t we know what happens after? Is it worth living for?

The Gospel of Mark ends with a group of women finding the tomb of Christ empty.  The other Gospel writers, then, portrayed a powerful resurrected Jesus. A Jesus in his own body, of flesh and bones, living and breathing. Eating fish with his friends by the beach. Breaking bread and drinking wine with them after a long journey. Ascending into the Unknown… To return.

 

Easter confronts my existential insecurity. Will I try to create a system of philosophical speculation of what all these things meant, making metaphysical statements I couldn’t possibly be sure of, enforcing my form of religion, and creating a huge intellectual fence around the warm, pierced body of the Risen Christ? Will I separate myself from God, facing him as a subject of study, attempting to know, so I can control, like the old Adam? Or will I trust the Unknown and walk to my death defiantly, calling out to the Being that leaves me as my body dies, “why have you forsaken me?”.

The risen Christ tells me that this life matters. My body matters. The Resurrection tells me we will not go somewhere else: We will return. We will rise again, against all the insecurity and nihilism that tells us we are only safe if we know. We will rest in faith, hope, and love, against the faithlessness that tries to control God by understanding, systematizing, and institutionalizing.

Easter confronts me as a theologian, because I cannot explain it. But it assures me as a human, that we will rise again, into this strange existence, united in Love to each other like our strange Divine Human friend.

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

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