Celebrating a Return to “the way things used to be”

Many years ago, my ingenious niece, Lisa Hess, sent me these two pictures as a way of wishing me Happy Easter. Knowing Lisa, I am sure she had more in mind than just that, but I doubt that she had any idea how deeply I would bond with this card. I don’t keep it with the other cards. In the drawer where I keep it, it is the only card there.

I’ve written about it several times before. I don’t think it gets funnier;

there isn’t much room at the top of the Funny scale for this card. It starts near the top. I think that it might become richer. I’ve spent some of this morning reading earlier posts about this card and I think that this year, I am ready to take another step. The step is this: “This is a very nice Bunny, but to the extent he stands for the Natural Order, he is wrong.”

So here’s the card. The bunny is facing away from the tomb; also away from the rock covering the entrance to the tomb. He notices—too late—that the rock is headed his direction and just after he notices it, the rock crushes him and kills him.

The card gives us, on the front, “Easter…” On the inside, it says “…It’s not about a Bunny.”

OK, that’s fine. It does raise the question, of course, of just what Easter is about. In this card, Jesus, having moved on to another kind of life entirely, heals the inattentive Bunny, and receives his thanks. To the best of my recollection, the Bunny is the only beneficiary of Jesus’ healing powers who directly thanks him for his trouble.

But the next thing the Bunny says—the thing that makes the card so funny—is “Welcome back.” “Back?” We know what the Bunny means. The Bunny would have said the same thing to Lazarus after Jesus had raised him temporarily from death. Welcome back to the world of nature you left.

That raises two questions. The first is whether the Bunny is right. Is Jesus “back?” Twenty centuries of Christian teaching say no. The second is what status the Bunny is assuming. In saying Thanks, he represents only himself. Paul can go on at length about how all of nature is to be healed from the endless decline into corruption, but that’s not what the Bunny has in mind. He has received a favor and he says Thanks.

But in saying “Welcome back,” he takes on a new role. He is the representative of Nature—of the natural order which, as he understands it, Jesus left and now he has returned. The Bunny is the host, welcoming Jesus back to the club.

But has Jesus come “back to the club?” This is not going to be solved by slapping a Bible verse on it, but I think the spatial orientation of John 13 is interesting in this regard. Here’s John 14:2,3 as the New Jerusalem Bible has it.

“In my Father’s house there are many places to live in; otherwise I would have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, 3and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to myself, so that you may be with me where I am.

Notice, “going” and “gone” and “return” and “take” and “where I am.” Think of them as spatial markers. There is not the faintest notion of the “back” in the Bunny’s welcome except “return,” which is, by the nature of the case, brief.

In fact, the re- of resuscitate cannot mean the same as the re- of resurrection. Resuscitation, like Lazarus, would have fully justified the Bunny’s welcome back. But all the texts we are considering think that the re- of resurrection points not to a coming back, but to a going on. There are, here, some easy questions and some hard questions. The hard one—I’m not going any closer to it than the writers of the gospels did—is this: “What is the life like that is on the other side of death.” The easy one, on the other hand, is this: “Did Jesus having been raised from death, return to “life” in the same sense that he left it?”

No. He didn’t No one who writes on the topic thinks that. Skeptics think the whole thing is a hoax. Docetists think that since Jesus only “seemed” to live, that he did not really die. Gnostics think that the real true part of Jesus, the immortal soul, returned to the glory where all souls belong, leaving only the meaningless husk of flesh behind. No one thinks, as the Bunny apparently does, that Jesus has come “back” to the life he recently left.

That’s why it’s easy. And, being that easy, it can also be funny. Thanks, Lisa, for many Easters that have been happier than they would have been without this card.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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