Magic and the Resurrection of Christ
Here is a link to the Easter Vigil Readings.
Here is a link to the readings for Easter Day.
From the time I was a kid, I loved magic. The best gift anyone could give me was a magic kit or a magician’s hat or wand. I would learn the tricks and then get my family to gather around as I put on a show. I remember asking my Grandpa Roland for his hat during a performance one time. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old. He was reluctant to hand it over—it was a good quality felt hat after all. He asked why I needed it, and I told him that I was going to pour milk into it and make the milk disappear! This only made him more reluctant, but finally he handed over the hat. I carefully set up my trick, which involved a disguised container being placed in the hat to capture the milk and make it seem that it had disappeared. Then, abracadabra! I poured the milk into the hat. I suppose I had not practiced enough, and besides, his hat did not lie flat on the table because it wasn’t a top hat—I was improvising. Unfortunately, this combination of factors led to the milk hitting the hidden device and knocking it over. All the milk spilled into my grandfather’s beautiful cap! “Frank,” my dad said to my grandfather through his laughter, “Do you want your hat back now?” Gramps just smiled, his bright eyes twinkling, and said, “I knew this was a bad idea!”
The Bible is very familiar with magicians, and usually, they don’t get a good review. Magic, in Scripture, is contrasted with the work of God. Magicians trick us, whereas God is genuine. Magicians offer an illusion, whereas God offers the real thing. Magicians pretend to have power, whereas God is indeed all-powerful. The classic demonstration of this occurs in Exodus when the court magicians of Pharaoh counter Moses and Aaron’s miracles with illusions that seem just as powerful. Eventually, though, Moses shows forth the power of God such that even the magicians admit they are outmatched. “[T]he magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God’” (Exodus 8:15). God Almighty is no match for illusionists and sorcerers.
In our readings for Easter, the Scripture writers take pains to make sure we understand that the resurrection was not an illusion, not a trick, and not a metaphor. There were guards and a heavy stone at the tomb to prevent theft of the corpse. Jesus appeared to his disciples, not as a ghost, but in his glorified body. The witnesses “ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” He still bore his wounds. Thomas, the doubter, was invited to touch the wounds so that he might believe, and he cried out, “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28).
The resurrection, besides being no illusion, was also no spectacle. Magicians create spectacles. “The resurrection of Christ,” on the other hand, “was God’s supreme and wholly marvelous work” according to St. Augustine. Yet, it was no spectacle. Love is never a spectacle. The greatest moments of any loving relationship are intimate and personal. The greatest event in history, God’s finest work and ultimate act of love, was not a performance meant to entertain or to receive fanfare and applause. It was not a display of power the way the world understands power. Instead, it was the whisper of a Lover. Luke wrote, “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us…” He appeared to his intimate friends instead of enacting a great theophany, perhaps so that we might become intimates of Christ instead of spectators of a miracle. He wants us drawn in by the power of love, the secret heart of love, not by a spectacle. The witnesses were simply those who were in love with Christ. They were doing the very ordinary work of grieving a loved one: anointing the body for burial, gathering together to talk about his life and its meaning, visiting his tomb. In these ordinary acts of love, Christ appeared to them in the flesh. He greeted them with peace and commissioned them to tell the story. Love, though intimate, can never remain secret! “[W]hat you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matthew 10:27).
Some people lose faith because they want magic instead of the love of God. Jesus criticized this, reproaching those who only wanted signs. “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,” he said (Matthew 16:4). Easter reminds us that the greatest act of love involves the deepest level of intimacy. The most public expression of love in a wedding is always consummated in private.
The miracle of the resurrection was not a spectacle. It was personal. It continues to be personal. In the intimacy of love there is trust, and we know it is not an illusion. In the ordinariness of love’s economy, we know we are not being tricked. In the touching of his wounds, we know that our own wounds will one day be glorified rather than magically disappear. And in the breaking of the bread—being embraced in peace by the one who was himself broken on the cross out of love for us and the Father—we know that our own tombs will also, one day, be empty.
Happy Easter! He is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Photo credit for the magic rabbit: https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/craftvision?mediatype=photography
Photo credit for the girl reading the magic book: https://pixabay.com/en/take-the-book-girls-the-study-532097/
Photo credit for the empty tomb: Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash