Here’s Easter in two contrasting images.
The first is the kind of Easter picture most of us are familiar with. It’s the lone Jesus whooshing up out of the tomb.
There’s nothing wrong about the image. Jesus certainly defeated death. But, in their new book, “Resurrecting Easter,” John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Crossan identify this solitary riser with our Western notion of Easter, which skews toward an individualistic vision of resurrection: One man defeated death and the grave, and you can too.
By contrast, Eastern Christianity saw the resurrection of Christ more like this:
Notice the difference? Christ isn’t coming out of the tomb alone. He’s got Adam in his right hand and Eve in his left. In yanking our universal parents out of their graves, Christ is pulling everyone with him into deathless life. It’s a communal view of resurrection.
In some Eastern icons, like the one below, it’s not just Adam and Eve it’s—a party!
Often the ones who join the uprising are Mary and John the Baptist, as well as Old Testament figures like Abraham, King David and King Solomon.
If this universal vision of resurrection is making you smile, it gets even better. In the West we generally see Christ’s resurrection and his descent into hell as two separate events. But Eastern icons of the Anastasis (Greek for “resurrection”) routinely show the Risen Christ invading hades. Take a look at this icon. Have you ever, in all your Western born days, seen a rendering of the resurrection like this?
Christ has broken open the walls of hell, Satan crushed beneath his feet. And as far as the eye can see, the ransomed ones are coming to Christ. Notice the poor demons on the right. Hell!, they seem to be saying, He’s emptying the whole place! This, the iconographer is saying, is Anastasis. This is Resurrection.
Other people may be good enough, holy enough, faithful enough to share in the solitary Christ’s resurrection. I need a Christ who comes for everybody. A Christ who grasps me by the wrists and deadlifts me out of my grave with the rest of my brothers and sisters, because otherwise I’m not going to make it. I need a Christ who empties hades of everyone who wants the hell out of there. Because I don’t want to spend one minute in heaven as long as there’s one prisoner in hell.
Happy Anastasis. Christ is risen, and has pulled all humanity with him. Alleluia.
Who came out of the empty tomb?
How does a more communal vision of Easter change your sense of participation in the resurrection?