I am writing this piece on Easter Sunday. The day when Christ rose from the dead, according to Christian tradition. The implications of this vary widely, depending on one’s emotional and theological make up. For some it means that our sind have been forgiven. That Eternal life is now available to us if we accept the gift that Christ’s death make available to us. We give our hearts to him and he makes sharers in his Risen life. (Not accepting this gift means that we spend all this life and the next separated from God-and all that might follow from that state.) Another version is that Christ’s death shows us that God is not sitting in Heaven remote and untouched by humanity’s struggles. The death of Christ shows us that God knows about suffering and walks the road with us. These are two of the many shades of meaning attached to the Easter story. Which version one chooses is, I think, shaped as much by personality as by reason.
I have no idea what happened on the original Easter Sunday. Nor do I know what implications follow from that. I spent too many years following the traditional evangelical line that I was a sinner who was bound for hell unless I accepted Christ as my personal saviour. I worked very hard at believing that doctrine. I was successful at it.I’ve preached on street corners; witnessed; given out tracts; cast out demons; spoken in tongues,prayed and prophesied. And kept quiet about those “But…” questions. Then I went into therapy and had a chance to ask all those questions. And find my own answers. Which meant that I left all those evangelical certainties and have never come back to them. So, I too have my own empty tomb and am left wondering what happened to the body I buried there.
In 1892 Martin Kahler coined the phrase “The Jesus of history and the Christ of Faith”. As with any phrase, Kahler’s original meaning has been changed over the years. I want to add my own interpretation here. I offer a psychological interpretation. To think about our own “historical Jesus”. The parts of us that are not divine. The ordinary everyday us who was born, lives, goes about mundane daily life. We can date when we were born.Where and to whom. We know about our growing up, going to university, marrying, having children etc. All the usual activities of daily living. We have good days and bad days. Times when we are sad. Times when we are happy. Ordinary everyday lives. The Christ of Faith belongs to those parts of us that dream dreams. See visions. Choose to Hope. When I worked in a Therapeutic Community we always had a good-bye tea when someone left after their year. We made much of it because it was a new beginning as well as an ending. Good Friday and Easter Day. In standard psychiatric units this ending is not marked. A decision is made and the patient is discharged. There is no ceremony to mark the event.There is no discovery of something different or new. Nor any chance to mourn what has been left behind.
If our ordinary lives might represent the Jesus of history, where does the Christ of faith fit? For me, the Christ event is found in moments of change. The moment in therapy when one feels understood. Or when as a therapist something makes sense about a patient. From this understanding, new work can start. A Christ event occurs.A different future can begin. Equally Christ events occur when all we see is Good Friday with its suffering. “My God, why have you forsaken me?” It is an act of faith to believe that there is an end to pain. To dare to hope that a resurrection is possible. Holding this hope is also the task of the therapist. I remember working for a long time with one patient whose childhood had been grim but who refused to mourn what he had lost. “I’m not going to be a fucking victim” was his catch phrase. He defended against this by presenting an air of contempt for everyone. The Christ event occurred when he allowed himself to acknowledge the hurt and vulnerable aspects of himself. This cost him many tears. From this point new life was possible. But I had to keep the hope. To believe that change was possible, even though it frequently seemed a forlorn hope.
These are my Easter thoughts. They are a long way from my early fundamentalism. But the pleasure of my current thinking is that it fits. It belongs to me. I can live with a Jesus of history and a Christ of Faith. I have to since I know too well the cost of trying to be someone else. Words from Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi” come to mind.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
I will leave to the last words to the choir of King’s college, Cambridge singing one of my favourite Easter hymns.