xbn .
Politics of Scripture

Rethinking Easter: Towards Radical Inclusivity

As a motif of Easter grace, the mountain is a place of new beginnings and renewal for all who seek abundant life.

6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the covering that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
“See, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:6–9 (NRSVue)

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every people anyone who fears him and practices righteousness is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Acts 10:34–43 (NRSVue)

For forty days Christians have been conscious about the Lenten demands of penance, deep reflection on their sense of purpose in life, and their relationship with God and fellow humans. For some, it is a time of taking seriously an altruistic spirituality that allows for radical awareness of their connections with others. After a period of deep reflection, Easter becomes a time of reaping the fruits of the turn to introspection; fruits that must be shared with others in a world of connectedness. Easter is a season of saturated grace, one that shatters all notions of exclusivity or an idolatrous claim to owning the salvific truths that God has made available to all. Connectedness is at the heart of the new humanity that Easter grace helps to mediate for all.

The resurrected Christ is the prototype of the new humanity that Christians are gifted with in baptism. However true this may be, this gift of new humanity is not limited to only Christians. It is a new humanity that is meant to be shared with others in such a manner that others experience the fecundity of life that the risen Christ gives all of creation as a free gift. This doctrinal truth is central to the lectionary readings assigned for Easter.

The readings from Isaiah 25:6-9 and Acts 10:34-43 highlight some important moments of grace that evoke a turn to radical inclusivity. Two motifs can be deduced from today’s readings. The first is the motif of a mountain. The second is the motif of impartiality. In fact, the two motifs all point to the truth of Easter, that Easter is a time of turning to God’s desire to be radically in love with all of creation. Sin has created a fragmented way of living and has caused violence to become the modus operandi in God’s world by fallen humans. But the Easter grace of resurrection upends all that and points to a new way of living and interacting among all of God’s creatures.

In the reading from the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah proclaims in a convincing manner that God is about to do something great for all peoples that goes against the familiar. The familiar way of being in the world that is defined by divisions, greed, exploitation, and violence that eventually lead to death will now give way to a time of celebrations. Abundance will be the existential adjective defining the qualities and praxes of living in the new dispensation. This new dispensation will play out on “this mountain” (Isaiah 25:6). To avoid a supersessionist bias that has clouded the theological imaginations of Christians, one must note that in no way does Isaiah’s summoning of the biblical Israelites to embrace a new dispension invalidate God’s covenantal love for the biblical Israelites. Rather, Isaiah is offering a richer understanding of that covenantal love which attempts to move away from a tribalistic mindset. However, the mountain is Mount Zion (i.e., Jerusalem; see Isaiah 24:23), where biblical Israel worshiped God in their sacred temple. But what is special about a mountain?

Mountains evoke existential vulnerability, a kind of nakedness that leaves one open to the scrutiny of others’ judgment. To live on a mountain is to embody the markers of being seen and noticed. It is to become the object upon which others set their gaze and pass judgments as well. Mountains as natural landscapes have the reciprocal ability to shape the behaviors of those who inhabit them. In other words, mountains become part of the existential experiences of those who inhabit them just as those who inhabit mountains also help to reshape the contours and layout of them. 

Even with this reciprocal relationship between mountains and their inhabitants, mountains are also geographical markers that serve as guides for those who travel. They are nature’s own GPS. As nature’s physical landscape, mountains help to influence its human inhabitants to become a type of landscape that serves as a source of guidance for those who seek directions. In this case, it is an ethical direction on how to live altruistically. 

Furthermore, there is something paradoxical about being a human landscape when one inhabits a mountain. While a mountain embodies a type of geographical vulnerability by standing out, it also evokes a type of defense due to the fact that it is elevated ground. Similarly, for those who inhabit a mountain, while they are vulnerable by being the objects of the gaze and the judgment of those at the foot of the mountain, they serve as agents of inspiration and the possibility for saturated imagination for those who gaze at and pass judgment on them. How is this the case? There is a type of freshness that is experienced on a mountain. The air is clean. The night sky is pristine and worth gazing at from the mountain top. There is a type of serenity that plays out on the mountain top. Hence, to inhabit a mountain is to become a being that is conditioned by the mountain itself to exude freshness and serenity; modes of living that instantiate abundant life for all. All these are worth desiring by those who do not have the privilege of living on the mountain.

As a motif of Easter grace, the mountain is a place of new beginnings and renewal for all who seek abundant life. Isaiah informs his audience that on Mount Zion, there will be feasting for all peoples, irrespective of their sense of privilege as the chosen people of God or not. On Mount Zion, God’s radical inclusivity will be experienced by all creatures as a gift that comes from God. The fact that the feast is God’s free gift to all peoples makes it mandatory that Israel must abandon a tribalistic mindset and modes of living. This is at the heart of the prophetic witness of Isaiah. To monopolize the feast is to be ungrateful to God the host who sustains both Israel and all peoples. 

For Isaiah’s prophetic vision to be experienced, a hermeneutic shift must occur in how Mount Zion is perceived. Mount Zion is not only a natural object. It is both a place and a landscape of interactions and encounters. Stated differently, Isaiah invites his fellow Israelites to become creatures of Mount Zion. As such creatures, they are to embody the saturated grace that God makes available to all peoples. They are to move away from a sense of privilege to one of openness. They are to reject the familiar manner of existing that is defined by scarcity and hoarding and embrace a way of living that is oriented towards abundance, peace, hospitality, and altruism. In other words, a new type of orthodoxy is to be embraced by Isaiah’s fellow Israelites; one that rejects a tribal sense of being in the world. In the new dispensation that God invites them to embrace, tribalism and all its shortcomings ought to be rejected. All peoples have a right to experience the abundance of life that God has made possible on Mount Zion.

This exegetical hermeneutic on what Mount Zion reveals is even more telling when one locates it within the ritual role of the place of worship for the biblical Israelites. Jerusalem and its sacred temple are built on Mount Zion. Consequently, they are to become ritual places of encounter where all of God’s people experience the feast of abundant life. Appropriating this exegetical reading, Easter evokes in the Christian imagination God’s invitation to embody an existence of abundance that goes beyond the frontiers of scarcity and religious paranoia. In fact, the prophetic caution of Isaiah is also relevant to Christians who define themselves as Easter people. Christians must take seriously the fact that as Easter people, they must learn from the wisdom of Isaiah so that they do not define Easter through a tribalistic lens and make the grace of Easter their monopolized grace. 

Easter serves as a metaphorical mountain upon which Christians are to live lives of vulnerability that make it possible for them to influence others to embrace the grace of wonder and possibilities. Just as a mountain allows for the feeding of our senses of sight (seeing the beautiful night sky), feeling (ability to experience the cool night breeze and the afternoon heat from the sun), smelling (inhaling the clean air that is away from the polluted air at the foot of the mountain), Easter serves as an invitation for Christians to reorient their embodied selves towards a life of abundance through sharing of themselves and their talents with others.

If Easter is God’s invitation for all creatures to participate in God’s abundant life, how then must the Christian community imagine itself in relation to those who do not share in its religious tradition? To address this question, it is proper that I state clearly that not all mountains help to mediate abundant life for those who inhabit them or those who seek to ascend to them. Some mountains are created with the intent to be exclusionary, as Nimrod Luz and Jacob Ashenazi argue. As landscapes for exclusionary existence, they become tools for instantiating an existential hermeneutic that validates fear of the other (see, for example, the discussion in Christopher Tilley, A Phenomenology of Landscape, 18). It is a familiar reality in the United States to find exclusionary communities on mountains and hills with their gated walls creating boundaries between themselves and those who are considered poor. Religiously, this temptation to create boundaries of exclusion is real. The whole theological scandal surrounding Christian embrace of the idea of Christianity superseding Judaism is itself a clear example of how this temptation of creating boundaries of exclusion plays out. 

Hence, this week’s lectionary reading from the Book of Acts reminds the Christian community of Peter’s religious conversion. Previously embracing an exclusionary praxis of his faith that excluded Gentiles, Peter experiences a vision where he is told to eat what was considered unclean in the Deuteronomic code (Deuteronomy 14:3–21). The symbol of unclean foods was a divine prompt that Peter ought to accept Gentiles into Christian fellowship.

Easter, as a metaphorical mountain, evokes a sense of impartiality. Thus, as Easter people, Christians are reminded to embrace those called beloved by God, despite being judged sinful or impure by Christian society. God’s invitation to the Gentile centurion, Cornelius, to participate in the life of the risen Christ is itself a testament to radical inclusivity. Just as Peter, all Christians must embrace this radical inclusivity and allow themselves to experience their own epistemic conversion. The type of conversion that Peter underwent is deeper than a show of hospitable gestures towards Gentiles. Rather, his conversion upended theological and doctrinal positionalities about who belongs and who is an outsider. The keeping of dietary codes distinguished insiders from outsiders to Israel’s covenant with God. Yet, in Acts 10, Peter was being reminded that there is another type of code that he must now embrace as one who embodies Easter humanity. He is to become a medium of radical inclusivity that makes it possible for Gentiles to sit at the table of fellowship in Christ as equal participants with Jews like himself.

The motif of inclusivity forces Peter to rethink his doctrinal and religious biases of exclusion. This motif also instantiates for Christians around the world the need to rethink how their embrace of doctrines has become a tool of exclusion and violence towards those they have judged to be outsiders. How can Christians become an embodiment of inclusivity in their way of being in the world? To address this question, I return to the motif of the mountain.

For one to ascend to the mountain top and inhabit it, one needs some climbing tools. These tools are not the primary focus of the journey to the mountain top. They are only useful for the journey but as soon as one gets to the mountain top, they are no longer relevant. Similarly, religious doctrines and rituals are like tools intended to help Christians to become Easter people. As Easter people Christians are to become media of God’s abundant life for all. They are meant to create spaces at the table of God’s feast for non-Christians and those who seek to fellowship with them in God’s world. When Christians insist that doctrines and rituals are more important than their Easter humanity itself, Christians end up missing the core lesson that the grace of Easter mediates for them. The Christ of Easter is a Christ that is accessible to all. This Christ upends all cultural norms of exclusion.

Finally, just as Isaiah reminds his fellow Israelites that God has promised to make Mount Zion a home of abundance for all people, as Easter people, Christians are reminded to create a world where labels are rejected. Any label that creates boundaries of exclusion ought to be rejected. Nationalistic biases that portray others as aliens to be otherized ought to be rejected. This is particularly true today in our world as many Christians have embraced a culture of violence towards those they have judged as other. For example, in the U.S., some Christians have justified the culture of hate towards migrants, Muslims, and practitioners of other religions on the basis of a toxic theology and praxis of hate that is far from the demands of the gospel. This year’s Easter lectionary readings are a reminder that Christians have a fundamental role to play as social witnesses to God’s testament of radical inclusivity. The world is a graced world, and all creatures are invited to the feast of life that God has prepared. This is the new life that Isaiah’s vision and Easter faith together mediate – a life that is radically conditioned by the saturated grace of inclusivity.

Like what you're reading?

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This

Share this post with your friends!