The Lord is truly risen! Alleluia!
Throughout the Easter season this refrain echoes in halls of Christian worship and it is Good News indeed. Yet this alleluia requires both an asterisk and an exclamation point. Writing in 1990, Louis-Marie Chauvet offered this comment:
Even the jubilus of the Alleluia demands a certain restraint. Saint Augustine insisted on it: in the Christian system, delectatio requires moderatio. For “in hope we have been saved” (Rom 8:24). Christians live in a world that continues to experience itself as not yet having been saved. As with all humans, they also are nauseated before the excess of evil confronting them in the most recent atrocities (Auschwitz, Rwanda, Bosnia, and now Kosovo) perhaps up to the point even of wondering if the world is “savable.” In any case, to celebrate without restraint the joy of salvation would be something of an insult toward those humans whose lives are marked by incurable wounds. Moreover, on the level of his or her own personal life, does not each person experience himself or herself as always needing to be saved? (Louis-Marie Chauvet, “Eschatologie et sacrament,” La Maison-Dieu 220 (1990): 53-71 at 60. My translation.)
One might add today the plight of the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, those displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq and a whole host of others facing destitution, persecution, and death.
Faith in the resurrection requires believers to avoid the extremes of Docetism and Arianism. On the side of Docetism, matter is evil anyway and what counts is the escape of the soul from the prison of this world. The Son of God did not really take on flesh but merely seemed to be human, merely seemed to suffer. God did not and does not enter in the heart of the human condition. On the Arian side, the Son of God did really take on flesh but the Son of God is not divine in the full sense of the word “divine.” Once again, God did not and does not enter into the heart of the human condition. The Nicene response to Arius insisted that in order to be effective, the redemption wrought by Jesus must be fully divine in agency.
Our alleluias must have exclamation points. Against Arianism, Christian believers maintain that the Risen Lord is capable of being and truly is the firstborn of many. Our alleluias must have asterisks. Against Docetism, Christians acknowledge God’s embrace of suffering; Christians maintain that the resurrection of the Crucified One points us toward the many who are crucified today.
Do our liturgies celebrate a joy that is sober? Do they reflect a realism that is infused with hope?