Happy Easter, all! Today’s MM quote comes from The Way of Jesus Christ in his chapter on the Eschatological Resurrection of Christ. Moltmann succintly distinguishes the Easter event from springtime cycles of life, which I think is a helpful thing for us to consider:
The rhythms of creation- night to day, winter to spring, barrenness to fertility- are interpreted as foreshadowings and ciphers for the final rebirth of creation from suffering and dying, a rebirth which has begun with the first-born from the dead. Yet it is only in the light of Christ’s rebirth that these regeneration processes in nature become parables of the new creation. Although every morning is followed by evening, every spring by winter, and every birth by death, in the light of Christ’s final resurrection it is only in these natural beginnings of life that pointers to eternal life are seen, so that they are lifted out of the cycle of the eternal return of the same to which they otherwise belong.
There is a naturally cyclical element to life, and that’s a very good thing. It’s an important thing to follow, too. It’s why we should listen to our body’s Circadian rhythms and it’s why it’s a good idea to follow the church’s liturgical calendar. By repeating the same cycles, we connect with a pattern that’s deep in creation. We revisit things year after year- Advent, Lent, our birthdays, the New Year, the end of school. Whatever it is, it teaches us. It forms us. It gives us a way to order our lives that is crucial.
However, there is a very important dimension of Easter that is anything BUT cyclical. Jesus being raised from the dead was a break in the cycle of life and death. It was the unexpected turn. In that event, we see that a new process is possible: new creation. And new creation is NOT the same as a tree falling to the ground and becoming mulch and fertilizer for some future trees. That’s just nature, cycling through. New creation and resurrection is the emergence of something distinct and more than what was before. It’s not the same thing, over and over again. It’s a new thing.
I’ve been watching my plants eagerly the last month, waiting for them to begin greening and blooming, eager to see color and flowers. And though part of me just marvels at the fact that my looks-dead-as-anything lantana will be a huge mass of green and pink flowers in another few weeks, and though that does bring to my mind the fact that life returns even when you think it’s dead, even when it’s been nothing but a brown stick in the ground for 7 months, it’s not the same as Easter. It points to Easter, or as Moltmann says, it’s a “pointer to eternal life.” But Easter would be an actually dead plant coming back as not only the plant it was, but a plant that can do all it used to do and more. Like if my lantana started sprouting tomatoes.
I don’t know exactly how this works out in literal, real life, except in the life of Jesus, when a 3-days-dead human became an alive-but-in-a-different-way human. I don’t think we should get too specific about the details, because nobody knows what that means, really, except to say this: New creation is creation plus. It is something distinct/different/more/expanded than what was before. It is the cycle of life, but with a surprising emergence of new properties and possibilities.
Easter happens in spring, where the natural cycles of life point us to the beautiful and important fact that dormant things come alive, and dead things can be nutrients to spur new things. But Easter itself is the declaration that, in addition to that, God is doing a new thing, and that new creation requires us to leave a space, or a question mark for the emergence of something more than what we know.
These 50 days of Eastertide, let’s leave open that space. Let’s celebrate the possible. Jesus Christ was crucified, but he has been raised. Alleluia.
P.S. I do really love this section that I quoted a few years ago, so if you want more Moltmann on the resurrection, here’s the post.