What does Easter mean to modern Christians?

Till late last century, it’s probably true to say that your average protestant Christian believed in a god who offered their son to be killed like an animal sacrifice, as payback so humanity was relieved of its own death penalty for ‘sin’ or separation from God, each other and creation. And all we humans needed to do was believe in this transaction to be ‘saved’. You don’t need to believe Christianity is little more than a fairy tale for feeble minds to have problems with this picture. 

Christian feminists soon argued: If God is an angry ‘Heavenly Father’ and can use violence, surely this legitimises the angry human father. None of that make sense in human terms. And it plays into and seems to validate coercive regimes and abusive fathers and the idea that god was on our side in war. 

Liberation theology also critiqued this way doing of theology as an academic exercise – this ‘pie in the sky when you die’ Christianity. For liberation theology, salvation itself was a process, and inseparable from the struggle to bring about justice and the end of tyranny right here and now.

Squeamish liberals often responded to this ugly picture of god, by emphasising the poetical or metaphorical nature of the resurrection story.

Others suggest that Jesus couldn’t overcome temptation until he was tempted, he could overcome death’s final sting until he died. Marcus Borg, one of the most influential modern biblical scholars, argues its not just a pretty story:

“Jesus death does matter. Not because it was payment [for humanity’s sins], but because it was the result of his passionate desire to transform the world. Jesus as a prophet and wisdom teacher was passionate about a world of justice, meaning economic fairness, in which everyone had enough, in which there was bread for the day. He was an advocate of peace in a world that was filled with violence. Both of those commitments challenged the religious and political authorities of the day and so they killed him.”

So where does that leave the resurrection, the most challenging of Christian beliefs? “The tomb couldn’t hold him. He’s still around, he’s still loose in the world, he’s still recruiting for the Kingdom of God. Easter also means that Jesus continues to be a figure of the present, who is known in the lives of many Christians,” replies Bord.

Holy Week kicks off with the bizarre Palm Sunday, which could equally be known as Paradox Sunday. It’s a story about what happens when the god we want and think we know doesn’t show up, and another God — a less efficient, less aggressive, far less muscular god — shows up instead, and saves us in ways we didn’t know were possible. 

What does all this make of Easter for modern, thinking Christians? For those not sure if they have a faith anymore? What does it say to our actual untidy lives, right now?

Join us at Aldersgate this year as we travel the journey of Easter, the road of despair and hope – to find a faith robust enough to live in and indeed bear the weight of a messy, ambiguous, precarious world.

  • 1.00pm Sunday 11 April – Multi-faith Peace Train Bike Ride – departing from four locations across the city
  • 5:15pm Wednesday 14 April – Theology Discovery Group Reimagining Resurrection with John Dominic Crossan, by looking at how the earliest Christians viewed this pivotal moment

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