Because the Easter story has been told so often, it is easy even for Christians to forget how revolutionary was Jesus' birth, life and death. The idea that God would become human and dwell among us, in circumstances both humble and humiliating, shattered previous assumptions. It was through this story of divine involvement that much of today's humanistic tradition was born.
For most Christians, the incarnation ---- the belief that God, in the person of Jesus, walked in our midst, is a tipping point in human history. The incarnation's most common theological take-away may be the doctrine of redemption: the belief that salvation is made possible by the sinless life and atoning death of Jesus.
The incarnation also reveals that the divine principle governing the universe is a radical commitment to the dignity and worth of every person, since we are all created in the divine image.
But, just as basic is the notion that we have value because God values us. So, similarly gold has value not because there is something about gold that is intrinsically of great worth, but because someone values it. Likewise, human beings have worth because we are valued by God, who took on flesh, entered our world, and shared our experiences ---- love, joy, compassion and intimate friendships; anger, sorrow, suffering and tears. For Christians, God is not distant or detached. God is involved with us, which elevates the human experience. In human history, God's intervention laid the groundwork for today's ideas of individual dignity and inalienable rights.
Indeed, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (blessed are the poor in spirit and pure in heart, the meek and the merciful), his touching of lepers, and his association with outcasts and sinners, were all acts and values contrary to the conventional wisdom of those times. Such behavior on the part of Jesus was fundamentally at odds with the way the Greek and Roman worlds viewed life, where social status was everything.
It was Jesus and Christianity that introduced the notion that human beings were of
fundamentally identical value ---- that men and women were equal in dignity. This was an unprecedented idea at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.
Thus, Christianity placed charity at the center of its spiritual life in a way that had not been seen before. It raised the care of widows, orphans, the sick, the imprisoned, and the poor to the level of high religious obligations. Christianity would later play a key role in ending slavery and segregation. Today Christians are taking the lead against human trafficking. Also, Christians maintain countless hospitals, hospices and orphanages around the world. What Jesus started, still shapes our diverse values toward humankind. So, people today should not assume that compassion for the poor and the marginalized, is natural and universal.
There is one other dimension of Easter. Easter helps those of us of the Christian faith to avoid turning God into an abstract set of principles. Accounts of how Jesus interacted in this messy, complicated, broken world, through actions that stunned the people of his time, allow us to learn compassion in ways that never would happen by being handed a moral rule book.
For one thing, rule books can't shed tears or express love; human beings do. Seeing how Jesus dealt with the religious authorities of his day (often harshly) and the sinners and outcasts of his day (often tenderly and respectfully) adds texture and subtlety to human relationships that we could never gain otherwise.
Unfortunately, Christians have often fallen short of what followers of Jesus are called to be. We have seen this in the Crusades, religious wars and bigotry. To this day, many professing Christians embody the antithesis of Grace.
As we think about Easter this year, bring to mind that it celebrates God's incarnation among humankind and the lasting revolution it caused through Jesus in human relationships. We are part of a great drama that God has chosen to be participating in, not in the role of a conquering king, but as a suffering servant. Not with the intention to condemn the world but to redeem it. He saw the inestimable worth of human life, regardless of social status, wealth and worldly achievements, intelligence or national origin. So should we!
These words are brought to you by the CPC Adult Spiritual Development Team, seeking to encourage your spiritual growth this spring.