Glynn Cardy, an Anglican priest in New Zealand, has written a series of blog entries on the subject of Easter. His third posting, "The Great Easter Deception", includes the following text:
...The first post-resurrection Christians found the liberating spirit of Jesus wonderful, enlightening, and world changing. However, in time, other Christians, especially some in positions of power, found it frightening. They wanted to restrain and control the Jesus spirit. They were anxious that people would take courage, turn the world upside down, and thus upset the way things are. They were anxious that their power would be reduced.It is clear to me, as I study the history of the development of orthodoxy within the early centuries of the Christian church, that this de-politicization of Jesus's message that Glynn Cardy refers to in the above text was accompanied, at the same time, by political maneuvering for power by the leaders of the early Church. Those two processes went hand in hand, because in order for the self-appointed gatekeepers of the new religious order to justify their consolidation of power, it was necessary to strip away from their religious faith any real reference to Jesus's prophetic call on behalf of the powerless in the face of collaboration between secular and religious authority. The taming of the Jesus spirit into a restrained and safe orthodoxy which ultimately triumphed over "heresy" was not a polite, restrained, peaceful affair. It required Machiavellian subterfuge, coercion, and violence--all of which violated the spirit of Jesus's teachings, of course, but then that was the point.
So what some leaders did was take the metaphorical language about sacrifice [that had been around awhile] and applied it definitively to the Easter stories. They turned Jesus’ death into a once-for-all blood sacrifice to cleanse us of our alleged sin. Instead of the forces of injustice killing Jesus all of us so-called sinners were responsible. His death was de-politicized. If it weren’t for our sin, so the story was re-told, he wouldn’t have had to die.
Jesus was now no longer the confrontational revolutionary prophet but a self-sacrificing lamb. Good Friday was not the Romans killing off a pestilent rebel but the assisted suicide of the forgiving martyr. Easter Sunday was not the days of new hope, determination, and resistance congealing among his followers but a 40-day power display in order to show the benefits of having Jesus forgive us.
If, as Glynn has suggested, the Jesus spirit has been restrained and controlled, how can we then liberate the Jesus spirit once again? How can we reincorporate what I believe to be Jesus's message of radical inclusion, his rebellious spirit, his prophetic call, his identification with powerless, into a modern faith?