One of the little known facts about Easter is that it is really about fighting slavery. It was the first great rebellion against the shackles on our souls, the moment liberty came smashing into the human experience like a shaft of sunlight through a thunderstorm. And it was intoxicating, but more on that later.
As you probably know, Easter is remembered as the time God died. We killed him, as Nietzsche so rightly pointed out. It is just that he forgot the sequel, because of course Easter is also remembered as the time that God killed death. How does one kill death? By living through it – after all, death only wins if it keeps you dead.
Oddly, quite a few people claim this has nothing to do with slavery. Worse, they claim Jesus never objected to the vile, vulgar practice. He certainly did – and he focussed on the most pernicious variation of it: the slavery that humanity has not been able to defeat in all of recorded history, the slavery of the human soul to evil. Think about it: have you ever done something you knew was wrong? Have you ever felt guilt? Have you ever desperately wanted to stop doing something, and yet found yourself doing it anyway? We are, of course, perfectly able to do the right thing, to avoid the guilt altogether, and yet unfailingly, we do the wrong thing. It was this Saint Augustine called a “vagrant liberty”, the insistence of our souls to roam into evil despite our best efforts, which is no liberty at all; it is its very own slavery.
And it kills our humanity. It makes us think living human flesh can justifiably be bought and sold as a chattel; it makes us think our own happiness can be sought at the cost of another; it makes us judge, and backstab, and envy; it makes us value money, or ease, or ourselves more than others; it makes us think killing and hating and lying are OK. That’s not true, and God was dying to prove it. That is why I say Easter is really about fighting slavery. The Christian believes it celebrates the time God offered himself, in our place, to the slave master we had sold ourselves to: seeping, creeping soul-death. He then found that cruel master guilty of murdering an innocent and overthrew him, setting off a rebellion so magnificent it still hasn’t stopped.
The centuries have not quenched its fire, nor have trouble or persecution stopped its spread, because this rebellion is intoxicating. And here is why: because it gives our liberty home, and homes give things meaning. At last, the slavish obedience to our own selfish desires is over and we are free to love good, to rest in it long. Astonishingly, it is then that we find out the whole, wonderful mystery of it all. God is good; in allowing us to lay our liberty unhindered there, we find that He has allowed us to lay it in Him. We find that what we had sought all along was Him, only we kept letting ourselves get in the way. That’s why Saint Augustine, whose words echo loud in the hallways of philosophy and who once argued against Christians for the sheer pleasure of beating them, at last uttered “our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee”.
And that, I suppose, is the difference Easter made; it asks us to join a joyful rebellion that sees good take over us so it can spill lavishly out of us. It invites our ever-searching souls to use their freedom one more time, to come home.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz