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Happy Easter: Proclamation and Commitment

Updated: 6 days ago

‘Unless there is Good Friday, there will never be Easter Sunday’

“The Lord is Risen!” is resounding throughout the world this Easter Sunday with hearers proclaiming the refrain, “Indeed, He has Risen!”

The greeting on its surface bespeaks a confident belief in the good news of the Resurrection of Our Lord, the spiritual linchpin of the Christian faith.

The importance of the spiritually seismic event can’t be overstated. St. Paul spelled out the all-or-nothing stakes, telling the Church at Corinth: "...if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

But despite jubilant Easter greetings, it’s worth asking how many people actually believe in what they are saying. How many believe in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus? And, more significantly, how does this belief in the resurrection manifest itself in a world of growing fear and gathering darkness?

Remarkably, a recent State of Theology poll found that two-thirds of Americans (Protestants and Catholics) say they believe “biblical accounts of the physical resurrection of Jesus are completely accurate.” 

The study, commissioned by Ligonier Ministries and conducted by Lifeway Research, also reported that in the Midwest and the Southern parts of the country, a whopping 70% of the surveyed believe in the Biblical account of the empty tomb. Even in the predominantly left-leaning West and Northeast, at least 60% affirm the event.

Adding to the good news, over a majority (58%) of younger Americans between the ages of 18-34 accept that the resurrection event “actually occurred.”

These numbers are even more significant given an ever-increasing secular culture, as well as a general decline in church attendance and core beliefs in a post-COVID country.

But, despite the positive findings, the same study gives evidence of what could be called “spiritual dissonance,” i.e., proclaiming one thing and acting otherwise.

For example, over half of the respondents say that while the Bible contains helpful accounts of ancient myths, it is not literally true.

The poll, conducted intermittently since 2014, shows a growing percentage, up to a high of 32%, who say God is unconcerned with their day-to-day decisions. And 3 in 5 say religious belief is a matter of personal opinion, not objective truth.

Sixty-six report that worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church –– the same percentage as those who say they believe in the physical rising of Jesus.

Christian apologist and author Rebecca McLaughlin says this dissonance between believing and doing leaves her both “heartbroken” and “hopeful.”

The author of “Is Easter Unbelievable? Four Questions Everyone Should Ask About the Resurrection Story,” concedes that the disparity suggests a “huge opportunity” for evangelization efforts.

“Church attendance isn’t the ultimate goal, of course,” she explains. “But connecting these people, who must on some level think they are Christians, with regular Bible teaching and real Christian community would be a major step toward them trusting in Christ.”

She also argues, “[T]he idea that someone would say they believe Jesus actually rose from the dead but that this belief would have so little impact on their life that they weren’t even part of a church is truly tragic.”

For McLaughlin, the discrepancy “exposes the danger of cultural Christianity,” which she defines as “the vague assent to Christian beliefs without any evidence of actual faith in Christ.”

At first glance, cultural Christianity can strike us as benign, even good –– at least it’s “Christianity,” one can reason.

But in a world of growing fear and gathering darkness, “assenting to Christian beliefs without demonstrating actual faith in Christ,” is a benign, blunt instrument that can’t compete with the sharpened swords of atheist forces surrounding us.

It’s obvious God never intended for us to claim to be Christian but not to live and preach the faith. The Acts of the Apostles is a powerful testament to this tenet.

One danger of cultural Christianity stands out: the quick and easy slide from culturally Christian values to socially acceptable secular values. One writer puts it this way: “When there is a conflict between the virtues of Jesus and the virtues of culture, cultural Christians tend to choose cultural virtues.” 

In such a world, political correctness, “my truth,” and mercy for everyone’s lifestyle can easily trump fraternal correction, the Truth and justice. The Decalogue will slide, too, to a relative point of reference or be simply forgotten. Virtue signaling will carry more cachet than virtue itself.

In such a world, mercy is used as an absolute to negotiate right and wrong. The limitations of mercy used in and of itself can be seen in the comprehensive beauty of Jesus Christ’s response to the Pharisees who bring a woman caught in adultery –– and whom they are ready to stone –– before Him.

Jesus does three things. He admonishes them saying, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he extends mercy to the woman, finally saying to her: “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

St. Thomas Aquinas also fleshes out a fuller picture of mercy in the Summa Theologica. For Aquinas, the acts of mercy surpass the acts of all other virtues that relate to our neighbor; however, he argues that acts of mercy are not the greatest with respect to acts that refer to God.

For Aquinas, the virtue of obedience is greater than all the moral virtues, including mercy, insofar as we align our will to God.

Aligning our wills to God is not easy, to say the least. The Apostles managed to work up the courage only with an infusion of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. Ten were eventually tortured and martyred for it.

Reflecting on torture and death may seem inappropriate next to the joy of Easter. But the Triduum is a package deal. As Ven. Fulton Sheen said, “Unless there is a Good Friday in our lives, there will never be an Easter Sunday. The Cross is the condition of the empty tomb, and the crown of thorns is the preface to the halo of light.”

In any event –– whatever polls reveal –– it’s good to consider that our joyful Easter greetings are not merely proclamations, but also commitments to our faith.

Dr. Barbara Toth has a doctorate in rhetoric and composition from Bowling Green State University. She has taught at universities in the US, China and Saudi Arabia. Her work in setting up a writing center at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahmen University, an all-women's university in Riyadh, has been cited in American journals. Toth has published academic and non-academic articles and poems internationally.

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I really don't believe in polls. Anyone can say or say they do a particular thing, but actually do the opposite. I just don.t believe in their honesty in any statement. A statement of fact does more to prove than a poll.

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