(RNS) In Christianity’s passage through Holy Week to Easter Day, a moment of truth will arrive.
Every detail is well known, thoroughly studied and dramatized by Hollywood and homespun pageants — and the familiar story will reach across the divide and touch, or try to touch, every person who is listening and watching.
Many will get it, especially if they live in circumstances where people get falsely accused by the self-righteous; where the weak and vulnerable get mistreated by the powerful; where physical suffering is a daily occurrence; where death seems like the only next option.
That audience could well comprise the bulk of humanity — those who endure poverty, starvation and violence of epic proportions, those who live in more prosperous lands and yet are the oppressed, the ignored, the expendable.
For that audience, the gospel message is profoundly good news. God isn’t their enemy. Their suffering isn’t the will of some demonic God whose “plan” requires their agony and deprivation. Their suffering stems from humanity itself, from greed, power-madness, sickness and, sadly, from religious expressions developed by the few to sustain their sovereignty.
The Easter message means that God will win the victory over such evil. There will be no peace in the rich person’s home despite the accumulation of wealth. There will be no eternal comfort for those who prey on the weak and build their castles on human suffering. There will be no angelic choir singing the sweet music of the haves, while the have-nots stand by, even in heaven, wishing they had such good fortune.
In God’s victory, now or later, Easter bonnets will mean nothing. Massive pipe organs and professional choirs won’t control the singing. The swank and swell will receive no special consideration. Indeed, the rank and raw might be seated up front.
In God’s victory, trust funds won’t buy anything worth owning. Those counting on lucrative stock options will own dust, and that dust will have meaning only if God makes something of it. Fame will shine no special light. Youth and age, good health and ill health, beauty and plainness, good luck and bad luck, First World and Third World will all have the same beckoning: fall on your knees, chastened and thrilled, before the God who loves you and rise as a new creation.
Many, however, will hate that victory. They will want to dress well, go to church for an annual Easter tingle, and then go back, serene and confident about their lives.
Many who calibrated their preaching and music to please the haves will go home feeling slightly empty, knowing at some level that they failed their people once again. They didn’t risk preaching the actual Easter gospel. They didn’t reach across the chasms of modern life and speak as vigorously to the back pews as to the front pews, and not at all to those who remained at a distance, frightened and alone.
But there will be places where God’s people see the Son in agony and know a kindred spirit, and see the empty tomb as God’s victory over hubris, greed, power-madness, cruelty, smugness and self-serving.
In those places, “Alleluia!” won’t be a song to self, but a sigh and a shout of gratitude.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)