Thomas Halik on the Two Readings of the Resurrection

From Thomas Halik's essay at Religion and Ethics on two ways of reading the relationship between the Crucifixion and Easter, an argument he makes in his recent book The Night of the Confessor:
The Easter story can be read in two quite different ways. Either as a drama in two acts: in the first act a just and innocent man is sentenced to death and executed, and then, in the second act, is resurrected and accepted by God. Or as a drama in one act in which both versions of the story take place at the same time.

In the first interpretation the "Resurrection" is the happy ending, and the entire story is a typical myth or optimistic fairy tale. I can hear a story like that and think to myself that that was more or less the way it happened (which people confuse with "faith"), or I can conclude that it didn't happen like that - or at all (which people confuse with "lack of faith").

Nevertheless it is the second interpretation, the "parallel" one, that is actually reading with the eyes of faith. Faith here means two things, however: on the one hand, the realization that the story is paradoxical (that the other aspect of the story, "the resurrection," is a reinterpretation of the first, not its subsequent happy outcome); and on the other, the determination to link that story to the story of one's own life. That means "to enter into the story" and in the light of it to understand and live one's life afresh, to be capable of bearing its paradoxical character, and not to fear the paradoxes that life presents.

The second interpretation of the Easter story does not involve "optimism" (the opinion that everything will somehow turn out all right), but rather hope - the ability to "reinterpret" even things that "don't turn out all right" (after all, life as a whole can be regarded as "an incurable disease necessarily ending in death") so that we may accept reality and its burden, persist in this situation, and stand the test, and where possible be useful to others also.

The mystery of the Resurrection is not a feel-good happy ending, cancelling and annulling the mystery of the cross. One of the great theologians of the twentieth century, J.B. Metz, emphasized that when we proclaim the message of Resurrection "we must not silence the cry of the Crucified" - otherwise instead of a Christian theology of Resurrection we offer a shallow "myth of victory."

Belief in the Resurrection is not intended to make light of the tragic aspects of human life; it does not enable us to avoid the burden of mystery (including the mystery of suffering and death), or not to take seriously those who wrestle strenuously with hope, who "bear the burden and the heat of the day" of the external and internal deserts of our world. It does not assert some "religious ideology" and facile belief in place of following in the path of the crucified Christ.

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3 thoughts on “Thomas Halik on the Two Readings of the Resurrection”

  1. Incidentally, I think this reading is also found in Rene Girard's scapegoating theory. The resurrection isn't about the "happy ending" but is, rather, the divinization of the victim. Easter points back to Good Friday and says, "Your victim is God." Without Easter the figure on the cross is just another nameless victim of human violence. The two stories read concurrently, rather than sequentially, give the gospel drama its potency.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. And the more I accept this understanding of things . . . the harder it gets to reconcile so much of what "we" (collectively) do and endorse as American Christians. We want to be "saved" but I think a lot of the time, that idea appears to be lot easier than it's supposed to appear.

  3. Wonderful article; thanks for linking to it. The biggest key to me here is that second point he makes about faith: that it involves "the determination to link that story to the story of one's own life." As I see it, the failure to see Good Friday and Easter as a one stems from an overemphasis on penal substitution. If Christ "died in place of me, so I don't have to die," and salvation comes from an intellectual assent to this, then bearing my cross and following His example is a good idea, but it's not the essence of faith. But Paul and the other epistle-writers are clear: nearly every time they mention Christ's death and resurrection, they also mention that we die with Him and are raised by Him. The startling thing is that Christ didn't save us from death. The old man, the flesh, has to die, and that really is going to feel like dying. That's why the cross is foolishness - we're willingly allowing ourselves to die. And the paradox is that it is only in that death that we can be raised up to life.

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