4- Subverting Death

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This was supposed to air on Easter. I’m actually glad it didn’t. By now the Easter buzz has worn off and people are getting on with Spring, the season of New Life. This series is a long view of how we do life. We miss life by the micro-deaths that put us to sleep. My purpose is to wake us up from the anesthesia that oppresses us.  For this, there’s no better metaphor than resurrection.

Pastors and teachers feverishly defend the historical death and resurrection of Jesus, telling us it’s the backbone of Christianity, Paul agrees (1 Corinthians 15:19-20). By now, we either believe it actually happened, or we still have our doubts. Little more can be added to the discussion so long as the goal of Easter is historical proof.

Two-thousand years later and our goal is proof? That makes me sad. Our world is asking “Why should I care about Easter?” which begs the question as to whether we understand Jesus’ mission any better than his contemporaries. Of all the Easter sermons over my life 95% focused on a post-death benefit, which comes with strings attached (Join Jesus’ teamvoid where prohibited…). How has the subplot of Easter become a threat? Or else…. The questions emerge:

Is this the best of Easter; to retell the passion? Is the goal of Easter really about substitutionary atonement? Was the death of Jesus merely fire insurance? Is the gospel reduced to naughtiness shampoo? If the death of Jesus is anything of these things, then it’s the end of appeasement. It’s the end of low-level religion. So why do we keep going back to the paper maché rock for our Easter play? Is it the voice of our institutional tradition? Easter seems to be another voice saying, “He’s not in there, He is risen!Could the Easter attraction be a distraction?  I think so.  Is the Atonement open for discussion?

Historical data is not the big story of Easter. What if Jesus’ purpose goes beyond busing our table of sin? Jesus says his purpose is to bear witness to the Truth (John 18:37). He goes on to say that everyone who is of the truth listens to his voice. Last week I showed how this (phonés-voice) is that which awakes us from anesthesia. This changes the Easter message from sin management, to consciousness of the truth.

Easter is Jesus’ story of subversion which begins, not ends, with death. There was never a doubt in Jesus’ mind that bearing witness to truth would get him killed. Awake people are disruptive. The herd kills the strays it can’t re-absorb. We might think that subverting death means we avoid it, but Jesus reveals we go through it to subvert it.

The resurrection of Easter, is proved by our waking up in exile. All new life begins in exile where we are detached, isolated, uncertain, but free. Institutions train us, educate us, but unfortunately try to contain us. Death is the final institution of all humanity.

Institutional power needs us to survive. Institutions look out for themselves and thrive on assimilation. They gain power by turning outsiders to insiders. Each institution offers us a version of ourself, a mold into which we are to be pressed (Romans 12:2). Jesus was no different, except molds and ultimately tombs couldn’t contain him. While he participated in institutions, he could not abide. He was in but not of. He went through (transcended) family, friends, community, religion, and his government were all transcended…at a price.

The Easter story reveals our last institution is death itself. Death demands mandatory compliance. Colossians 1:18 says Christ is the firstborn from the dead. This doesn’t mean he was the first to rise from the dead (Jairus daughter, Lazarus) but that he is superior to the institution of death. This means that following Christ is to be willing to die for the truth (“take up your cross” Matthew 16:24). The promise of Easter is that death itself cannot hold us. Resurrection subverts death. Rising up (resurrection) is how we regain power. Going through and rising up is the path of subversion.

When the gospel frees the captive, it juxtaposes us with our institutions as a dissident, and the herd lashes out. The greater the institutional power, the more likely it will criminalize our independence from it. In Jesus’ case, neither Church nor State could tolerate such a stray. Neither could accept the possibility that Jesus told the truth. It’s the same for us. We can subvert through rebellion or through transcending.

Easter is more than naughtiness shampoo. It’s the living drama of healthy subversion retold in our lives each and every day. Easter is the dying process on our way to death.  We either die each time we make a concession and trade authenticity for group think, or we die alone on a hill where the herd vilifies us. The Easter resurrection is going through and rising up to the new life after each little death. It’s the living process on our way to life.

When we would rather be penniless, alone, forsaken, or relegated to the sidelines than lose ourselves in a pseudonym given by some institution, then and only then can we say we’ve been raised from the dead. If we trade our true self for the surrogate offered by the safety of the masses or if we really believe the Kool-Aid of the climbers, then it means our faith has not taken us very far. If our faith has not the power to free us from the small cages, what makes us think we will be delivered from the ultimate cage of death?

Let’s examine the institutions in our life. Our captivity in them determines whether Easter has had any power for us. Following our forerunner means we too will subvert death and every other institution, but not by avoidance, rather by going through and rising up.




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