“He is risen”? I’m not convinced

I just wasn’t into the whole “He is risen” thing this Easter.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe. At least I think I do. Maybe I don’t—not in the way I’m supposed to, anyway.

I saw friends posting the typical messages on Facebook on Easter Sunday and I just didn’t feel it. I don’t blame them, not at all. They’re entitled to post whatever they like. Some of them may even have believed it. But this year, in these circumstances, I found the whole “He is risen” propaganda profoundly hollow and yes, a little laughable, and perhaps even a little offensive.

I think there’s a time and place when it comes to expressions of Christian ideology. It may have been Easter Sunday in terms of the calendar of religious festivals but now isn’t the time for the Easter message—certainly not the Sunday message. To be fair, Easter Sunday should have been postponed this year, like the Olympics, like the Premier League, like the Pearl Jam tour. The whole world has come to accept that there’s a time and place for everything, and sometimes life can’t go on as normal. The same goes for Easter Sunday.

“You’re missing the point,” I hear my friends say (the same ones who posted “He is risen” on Facebook). “This is precisely the time we need some hope.”
But that’s my point. I don’t find the “He is risen” message gives me any hope at all. Not when I look around and don’t see any evidence of him being risen. Not when I look on Twitter and read the endless accounts of people dying daily of a virus that has ravaged the globe—the suffering, sickness and dying of people I know, people I’ve heard of, people I’ve followed, people I have never and will never meet; as well as stories of frontline health workers doing double and triple shifts, their faces munted by the protective personal equipment that stands between them and probable death; and then some of the most dreadful stories of all … those same health workers succumbing to the disease themselves.

The “He is risen” message in these times doesn’t make much sense at all (not that it ever does, to be fair). Right now it feels as silly as believing in Superman. It’s the kind of hope that Dr Manhattan inspires in Watchmen, which is not real hope at all, more like a state of suspended disbelief, “hoping” (against all the evidence) that the world won’t come to an end, while never quite surmounting the fear that Dr Manhattan might bugger off and let the inevitable annihilation happen. They only believe because they’re convinced “Dr Manhattan is on our side”.
Is God on our side? Sure doesn’t look feel like it.

But Good Friday … now there’s a message I can grasp. Good Friday is the message we need right now … the story of a man who believes he is the son of God, who has the sideshow skills to prove it, who speaks words not of (the very banal) kindness, but of radical love, but who still finds that at the end of the line there’s nothing there to save him. Just when he needs God the most, there’s … nothing. My God, why have you forsaken me. That’s where we are right now. In the “forsaken” moment in the story. In the moment of “Holy fuck, I was wrong all this time.” In that dreadful moment of illumination, the realisation that when humanity needs him the most, God/Dr Manhattan/Superman is NOT THERE.
That we are truly alone.

For us, the equivalent is the realisation that even if you’re a doctor, you can die of this. Even if you’re 30 years old and in good health, have never smoked, don’t have asthma, don’t binge-drink every weekend … you can still die of this. That there’s no miracle cure coming. That a vaccine probably will take 12 to 18 months to produce. That economies will be decimated. That we will lose jobs. That our “missions” will come to an end.

My God. Why have you forsaken us?
The problem with Easter is that it’s a package deal. Friday, Saturday (day of doing nothing), Sunday. They shouldn’t be a package deal. There are times when Good Friday is appropriate, and there are times when Easter Sunday is appropriate (maybe). We haven’t yet moved from Good Friday, the dark day of human despair. We should have stayed there a while. More than a day or so anyway. But Christians are the very worst at wanting to skip over Friday (the day of desolation), Saturday (the day of Okay, what the fuck do we do now), to Sunday … Yippee, he is risen, let’s all put on our nicest clothes and our best smiles and do our best jobs of convincing ourselves that this is real.

I understand, of course, that in the story it all takes place over one weekend—but that is NOT our human experience. Despair lasts a while, which is what makes us desperate. Even the ancient people of God, the Israelites, learnt this lesson early on. They were ripped from their land, their temple was destroyed, the king was killed, all the promises of God were broken (I’m referring to the Exile to Babylon, circa 597BCE). Did they jump straight to happy faces and messages of hope at the first opportunity? Did they buggery. They wrote the book of Lamentations—and stayed in that place of melancholy for decades.
Here’s a selection:

The people of Judah are slaves,
suffering in a foreign land,
with no rest from sorrow.
Their enemies captured them
and were terribly cruel.
The roads to Zion mourn
because no one travels there
to celebrate the festivals.
The city gates are deserted;
priests are weeping.
Young women are raped;
Zion is in sorrow

Because of this, I mourn,
and tears flood my eyes.
No one is here to comfort
or to encourage me;
we have lost the war—
my people are suffering.

Zion’s leaders are silent.
They just sit on the ground,
tossing dirt on their heads
and wearing sackcloth.
Her young women can do nothing
but stare at the ground.
My eyes are red from crying,
my stomach is in knots,
and I feel sick all over.
My people are being wiped out,
and children lie helpless
in the streets of the city.
A child begs its mother
for food and drink,
then blacks out
like a wounded soldier
lying in the street.
The child slowly dies
in its mother’s arms. A child begs its mother
for food and drink,
then blacks out
like a wounded soldier
lying in the street.
The child slowly dies
in its mother’s arms.

They’re the words we need right now.
Not “He is risen”.

The Israelites knew that there was a time for mourning. They also knew there was a time for rejoicing—it just wasn’t during a time of national grieving. They knew the despair of godlessness, the loss of all hope, the nearness of death. Real fear, inconsolable loss, personal and corporate rage. After the events that produced these poems, they didn’t begin to hope again for 70 years—that was how long they stayed in exile, slaves of the Babylonians, and how long they held onto their suspicion that God had completely abandoned them.
My God. Why have you forsaken us?

How rich do you think Israel’s celebration of the Passover feast, symbolising freedom from Egypt, was during that time? Not at all, I would say.

“He is risen.”
Sometimes it sounds no more convincing a tone than the dinging of Hector Salamanca’s bell in Breaking Bad.

So, my argument is this—let’s suspend Resurrection Sunday for a while, at least until it feels right to celebrate it. I say we dwell in Good Friday for the foreseeable future, in a state of mourning for the world, for the health workers, for those burying the dead in cardboard coffins in potter’s fields outside New York. Now is not the time for trite messages of “hope”, for “He is risen” codas of triumphalism. Now is the time for lamentation, communal grieving, corporate humanity, real sorrow.

The Christian message of resurrection isn’t a ra-ra-ra cheerleading routine, it’s a message of radical hope, of revolutionary epistemic disruption, the subversion of everything we thought we knew. I’m not hearing any of that in the “He is risen” messages I’m seeing this year. Nor am I meant to. This is not the time. We are but frightened children lost in the aisles of a supermarket trying to convince ourselves that Mum will find us.

Let’s put the leftover Easter eggs away for a year and pretend yesterday (Easter Sunday) never happened. And let’s come back to it when all this over; when the world is ready to hear words that will inspire it.