The icon of Easter

Thomas O’Loughlin explores how an icon from Eastern tradition can help us to reflect on the mystery of Easter.

We love certainty! We love facts! The idea that ‘this is how it happened!’ equals ‘the real’ or ‘the true’ has been an idol of western culture since the sixteenth century. It was given its most famous exposition in the work of John Locke (1632–1704): if I can see it, touch, or at least imagine it as taking place in the world of seeing and touching, then it is true. Likewise, if I cannot imagine it in the world of time/space, then it is a ‘myth’ – and ‘a myth’ is no different to most of us than a fairytale. ‘Myths’ equal nonsense, silliness, and perhaps even lies. The empirical is the real, and everything real must be see-able and touch-able.

This is fine if we are checking out people, events, or running a quality control on a product, but it also means that every religious statement is suspect. Faced with this unpalatable fact, the instinct of many Christians is to assert that religious statements – or, at least, statements about Jesus of Nazareth – are also ‘facts’: they can be checked out in the same way that a statement about any other historical actor can be checked out. So we like to think that if we were able to travel back in time with a video camera and stand outside the tomb into which Jesus was placed, then we would see the stone roll back, see empty space – and that would be ‘proof’ that the resurrection had happened.

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