Updated: May 30, 2018
Greetings Faithful Disciples of Jesus,
I thought you might find this article interesting. I was doing some reading after Easter and this article caught my attention. I enjoyed it and I hope you due too. Easter Effect among the first Christians: the way they thought about their responsibilities changed. What had happened to Jesus, they slowly began to grasp, was not just about their former teacher and friend; it was about all of them. His destiny was their destiny. So not only could they face opposition, scorn and even death with confidence; they could offer to others the truth and the fellowship they had been given. Indeed, they had to do so, to be faithful to what they had experienced. Christian mission is inconceivable without Easter. And that mission would eventually lead these sons and daughters of Abraham to the conviction that the promise that God had made to the People of Israel had been extended to those who were not sons and daughters of Abraham. Because of Easter, the gentiles too could be embraced in a relationship—a covenant—with the one God which was embodied in righteous living.
The way they thought about worship and its temporal rhythms changed. For the Jews who were the first members of the Jesus movement, nothing was more sacrosanct than the Sabbath, the seventh day of rest and worship. The Sabbath was enshrined in creation, for God himself had rested on the seventh day. The Sabbath’s importance as a key behavioral marker of the People of God had been reaffirmed in the Ten Commandments. Yet these first Christians, all Jews, quickly fixed Sunday as the “Lord’s Day,” because Easter had been a Sunday. Benedict XVI draws out the crucial point here:
“Only an event that marked souls indelibly could bring about such a profound realignment of the religious culture of the week. Mere theological speculations could not have achieved this... [The] celebration of the Lord’s day, which was characteristic of the Christian community from the outset, is one of the most convincing proofs that something extraordinary happened [at Easter]—the discovery of the empty tomb and the encounter with the Risen Lord.”
Without the Easter Effect, there is really no explaining why there was a winning side—the Christian side—for Constantine the Great to choose. That effect, as Prof. Wright puts it, begins with, and is incomprehensible without, the first Christians’ conviction that “Jesus of Nazareth was raised bodily to a new sort of life, three days after his execution.” Recognizing that does not, of course, convince everyone. Nor does it end the mystery of Easter. The first Christians, like Christians today, cannot fully comprehend resurrected life: the life depicted in the Gospels of a transphysical body that can eat, drink and be touched but that also appears and disappears, unbothered by obstacles like doors and distance.
Nor does Easter mean that everything is always going to turn out just fine, for there is still work to be done in history. As Benedict XVI put it in his 2010 Easter message: “Easter does not work magic. Just as the Israelites found the desert awaiting them on the far side of the Red Sea, so the Church, after the Resurrection, always finds history filled with joy and hope, grief and anguish. And yet this history is changed…it is truly open to the future.”
Which perhaps offers one final insight into the question with which we began: How did the Jesus movement, beginning on the margins of civilization and led by people of seeming inconsequence, end up being what Constantine regarded as the winning side? However important the role of sociological factors in explaining why Christianity carried the day, there also was that curious and inexplicable joy that marked the early Christians, even as they were being marched off to execution. Was that joy simply delusion? Denial?
Perhaps it was the Easter Effect: the joy of people who had become convinced that they were witnesses to something inexplicable but nonetheless true. Something that gave a superabundance of meaning to life and that erased the fear of death. Something that had to be shared. Something with which to change the world.
May we too join this movement and change the world.