A Banquet, a Dance, and a Resurrection

A Banquet, a Dance, and a Resurrection

Near the end of Act II in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Gondoliers, Tess exclaims: “A banquet and a dance! Oh, it’s too much happiness!” In the silly world of Gilbert’s characters, she is overwhelmed by the thought of food and dance. Oh, that our world were so simple! Or, perhaps more to the point, would that we were so simple. Alas, our souls and our thoughts are restless and curious, and not easily dissuaded by poached salmon and a fandango.

Historians have claimed that when the Word of Christ first spread into the slums of Rome, the poor and enslaved were so overjoyed at Jesus’ message of hope that they threw loud block parties. There was, no doubt, food and dancing, and singing. With all of the complications and interpretations that we wrap around Jesus, there remains a simple, easy to understand, profound and joyous message in the resurrection. Without any nuance at all, it remains great – so good that it must be true! God loves you enough to give you hope no matter how desperate your estate is. The resurrection offers a future to the futureless and light in the darkness. Really, is there anything better than that? And yet  . . . and yet we fight it, wrestle with it, sometimes deny it or even try to destroy it.

Jesus wasn’t the only person around first century Palestine claiming to be a messiah. But I’ll bet now, two thousand years later, he’s the only Messiah you’ve ever heard about. Unless you’re a scholar of antiquities or a very broad reader, the other “messiahs” faded into the dust, but Jesus stuck around. Cynics might claim this is because he had better publicity – spin doctors like Paul who preached a convincing narrative out of very little fact. Or disciples who knew how to manipulate the sophisticated (for its time) Roman communications systems. But is it possible that maybe the story and power of Jesus has survived for so long because it’s true?

Had Jesus been a king in the mold of King David, and brought Judea a victory over the hated Romans, it would be easy to understand his lasting fame, adorned with a miracle or two, as a messiah. But he didn’t. By most measures, he was an abject failure who ended up turning just about everybody against him, culminating in ignominious torture and an excruciating death. Our heroes are rarely cut from that cloth. But Jesus’ story does not end in death: it ends in resurrection, and that is what sets him apart from, well, everybody.

This is the happy part. The joy of Christ’s resurrection doesn’t serve simply as an antidote to unhappiness but, more powerfully, a cure for hopelessness. We fear death more than we fear rattlesnakes, more than anything, really. The resurrection of Christ takes the inevitability out of death. We don’t understand it – nobody really understands it – but there it is anyway. As Mr. Spock said on Star Trek – about a completely different subject, but it is applicable here – “It is not logical. But it is often true.”

Still not convinced? Still unhappy? Instead of turning to Gilbert and Sullivan, or Star Trek, what about 17th century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal? He proposed what has come to be known as Pascal’s Wager: “Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.” Put another way, betting on God is a bet you cannot lose. Pascal’s Wager is not offered as proof of God’s existence, it merely describes a way of living in which you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. You wager your entire life that God does exist, and you live accordingly, and in the end God actually does exist, you’ve gained the kingdom. If God doesn’t exist, then your life was meaningless anyway so you have lost nothing.

The poor, the needy, the mentally ill, the despondent, the lonely, all would benefit from a belief in God. It can produce real happiness in a sometimes unforgiving world. No wonder they celebrated – and still celebrate – exuberantly upon learning of the resurrection. But we are all subject to the brokenness of this world, either in ourselves or in life around us. No one – except Jesus – is immune from sin, so everyone needs God. Therefore, Pascal’s Wager applies just as well to the resurrection. A wise person accepts the wager, and in living “as if” God exists, may just discover God in reality, and gain everything.

Just as cynicism spreads like a deadly virus, happiness wipes it out like a vaccine. A life in which we are always trying to look both ways is untenable. At some point we must pass through the complexity and accept that just as Christ gave all for you, all you have to do is give all for Christ. Delirious happiness ensues. Much, much better than a banquet and a dance.

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