Easter – Resurrection AS Extinction Rebellion
David R. Weiss – April 22, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #22 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
Nobody saw it coming, not even his own followers.
Both the elites within the Jewish religious establishment and the Roman authorities knew that the man—and the message he so recklessly embodied in the community he gathered around himself—had to be stopped. This notion of divinely sanctioned compassion threatened to undo the carefully guarded structures—religious, cultural, and imperial—that helped ensure that profit, power, and status moved in … predictable … patterns. Reserved to those with the right families, the right connections, and (occasionally) the right opportunities. After all, social stratification is a hallmark feature of civilization.
But this man’s other-worldly vision, his relentless conviction that you could actually weave community out of compassion seemed to have just the right mix of intriguing presentation and beguiling practice. The common folk (upon whose lower, outcast status rested the leisure of others) were enthralled. Not all of them to be sure. Both religion and empire have ways to rein in the aspirations of those usefully deemed “other.” But this man was something else. And for the sake of everyone who was someone, he needed to be stopped. Hard. And publicly. Because that was the most effective method to dispose of both the man and the message. Thus, the point of the crucifixion was not simply to crucify Jesus but to crucify compassion.
On Holy Saturday it certainly appeared that compassion was extinct, so to speak. By all accounts Jesus’ followers and friends were fearful: scattered, in hiding, bereft. How long that first Holy Saturday endured we cannot know. The narrative, of course, says three days, but I suspect that’s our own wishful literalism treating the awe-filled testimony of the gospels as though they’re news stories rather than true stories.
The “fact” of the resurrection is beyond this essay. It’s interesting though that Paul (the earliest author in the new Testament, writing perhaps 15-20 years after the crucifixion) speaks primarily of a vision of a post-crucifixion Jesus. Mark (the next to write, perhaps 35-40 years post-cross) speaks of an empty tomb but not a risen Jesus. Matthew, Luke and John all have “proper” resurrection tales, but it’s taken 50-plus years for them to … arise. And John even describes the disciples on Easter morning as out fishing. That’s hardly the type of activity you’d go back to just 36 hours after seeing your closest comrade publicly, horrifically executed for treason. So this resurrection business is complicated, to say the least.
But whether you believe that Jesus walked out of the tomb or that those tales seek to name a reality deeper than fact, the bottom line—the gospel truth, if you will—is that there WAS a bodily resurrection: the church.
And that happened via compassion. The church was not born by affirming a set of doctrines or beliefs. It was born as Jesus’ followers and friends began—sometime on the far side of the crucifixion (my guess is weeks or months afterward, but that’s just a guess)—after a season of fear, grief, and confusion to recapitulate among themselves the radical compassion that Jesus had preached. And in the praxis of compassion they found Jesus “alive” in their midst again. That experience became the resurrection.
Resurrection is the original “extinction rebellion.” It is the dramatic affirmation that with our own bodies we will counter every effort to extinguish the seeds of compassion that have been sown in our hearts. For Jesus, and for his first followers and friends, that compassion was incarnated primarily in a widening welcome extended to humans in need. While the empires of Jesus’ day could surely wreak havoc on ecosystems, they had no ability to fundamentally fracture the entire planet’s health. There was, of course, as yet no scientific understanding of the intricate web of creation—although psalmists and prophets intuited this web as have most (maybe all) aboriginal peoples.
As I noted in “Redeemed for Resilience” (GIT, Essay #13), by the end of the fourth century the early church became the imperial church, and the radical compassion that drove the resurrection became reserved for saints and monastics. The majority of believers were instructed in doctrine and duty, and in many ways, the church chose to recapitulate the very dynamics of profit, power, and status that Jesus had challenged. The embers of resurrection never entirely faded, but for most of its history the church has been shaped by priorities other than radical compassion. (Yes, the church has fostered its share of compassion, kindness, mercy, etc. But, for the most part, the church made sure to ration these goods out in amounts that promote “good order” rather than instill them with the prodigal world-changing extravagance that Jesus did. )
Fast forward to the present day. Now “Extinction Rebellion” names a fairly new loose-knit global movement of activists committing non-violent actions to protest inaction by governments to address climate change. Although secular in origin, their credo is not unlike that of the earliest Christians: to deploy their own bodies in countering the complacency that threatens to extinguish the very seeds of life that have been sown on this planet.
On one hand extinction—the complete disappearance of a life form from the biotic community—is a cosmic fact. As life bubbles up across eons, some of those bubbles go bust sooner than others. And sometimes cataclysmic cosmic events—sudden meteor strikes or slow-moving ice ages—dramatically reshape life’s context and reset the bar for survival for entire ecosystems. On the other hand—the hand that matters right now—today, we don’t face extinctions dealt out by the unfolding cosmos. We face—we’re experiencing, as I write and as you read—extinctions at a pace unknown since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years. At a pace some scientists say qualifies as the sixth great extinction in Earth’s long history.
But this round of extinction has two noteworthy characteristics. First, rather than being caused by an insentient cosmic process/event, this extinction is being caused by us. Initially (and still) driven by how human development undoes specific habitats, ripping asunder the web of flora and fauna that constitute an ecosystem, this extinction is also being amplified by climate change, the cumulative impact of an industrial society playing Russian roulette at the level of atmosphere and ocean. Second, unlike the first five extinctions, which we view from a vantage point of safety measured in millennia past, this extinction may well include us. All life is interconnected. There are only so many strands of the web we can extinguish before the web nearest us collapses, taking us with it.
It’s time for churches to reclaim extinction rebellion as our cause. To use our individual choices, communal practices, and civic power to strengthen the social and ecological webs that support life. Maybe even to join Extinction Rebellion in some of its theatrical (liturgical!) nonviolence. I could say we ought to do these things “because” we believe in resurrection. But, actually, I think it’s the reverse. Easter’s “Alleluia!” belongs to all the Earth. Only as we begin to rebel with our own bodies on behalf of all life, letting compassion echo evangelically in our lives, only then can we say—only then are we saying—“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” If you’re looking for an Easter alleluia, you’ll find it there.
 I Cor. 15:3-8; Acts 9:3-6; 22:6-11; 26:13-15; Mark 16:1-8; Matt. 28:9-20; Luke 24:13-53; John 20: 11-29; 21:1-14. My thinking on resurrection has evolved over many years, beginning in seminary (1984) and continuing in graduate school (1992-97) in both seminars and a candidacy exam that looked at the Historical Jesus. Those most influential for me are John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), Marcus Borg, “The Truth of Easter” in The Meaning of Jesus, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), and Willi Marxsen, Jesus and Easter: Did God Raise the Historical Jesus from the Dead? (Abingdon Press, 1990).
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The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly essays consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional,” I aim to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week!
Contact me at: drw59mn(at)gmail.com
 I Cor. 15:3-8; Acts 9:3-6; 22:6-11; 26:13-15; Mark 16:1-8; Matt. 28:9-20; Luke 24:13-53; John 20: 11-29; 21:1-14.