Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

The Tomb is the Abyss.


It is Easter. If there ever was an apocalyptic day, this is it. (The weather here in Brooklyn is absolutely gorgeous, by the way). Easter is confusing. It is unsettling. And if you dwell on it for long enough, it can reduce you to tears.

What does it mean to even claim that God has raised God from the Dead? That God has overcome death through God? Logic fails. Before we even get to the theology of the matter, even saying it feels odd on the tongue. What did that person just say? "The Lord is risen?" Why "is" and not "has"? The grammar is unusual. Unusual grammar stands out to us, like the teenager who says "like" way too often in a sentence. Sentences have certain kinds of logic. Odd sentences unnerve us, they give us pause. And Easter is an odd sentence.

 We have experienced a week revolving around the death sentence. Everything led up to an execution. And that gave us enough trouble. Everything collapsed. And now we encounter a new trauma. Again, our expectations are overturned. We had just established new blueprints and architectures about death. Now, everything collapses again. On Easter, there is an unveiling (the Greek word is "apocalypse"), the disclosure of the contents of the tomb. And the disclosure is nothing. There is nothing. The expectation of the Dead is overturned. And we are confused.

The gospels, too, are confused about the matter. A variety of characters seem to get to the empty tomb first – all women. It might be Mary Magdelene (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) or  "the other Mary" (Matthew), or Mary, mother of James, (Mark, Luke) or Salome (Mark) or Joanna (Luke). It's dizzying who gets there first. But, here the gospel accounts undo themselves in their intertextual tangles. It's easiest to say that women get there first. That and the empty tomb are the only consistencies. What is the truth? All we know is that women say they have found an empty tomb. And who can believe women? Does the Gospel collapse because of disagreement on who saw what when? Is confusion not the nature of an Event that people seek to describe, to circumscribe themselves with, to wrap themselves up in the Event to make it tangible? Is there not confusion in the Moment? 

 Confusion is uncertainty, as is hope. Confusion and hope are present expectations about the future. We're not sure, but there is desire. Confusion is desire with static. There is desire to understand. Hope, a more articulate kind of desire. And Easter is confusing. If it isn't, then something is wrong. Easter upends everything. Easter says there is something else from what we have now. Easter is Apocalypse, the revealing of something something completely new. Something hopeful. Something beyond the monsters of this life.

Nietzsche, in The Gay Science,  wrote, "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." The tomb is the abyss. The tomb gazes into us. They are hypnotic, those abysmal eyes. We will find ourselves entranced by the death of it all. What to do? We have been fighting this monster called Death. It is our nature to fight Death, we being alive. In our battle, we must be careful that we do not become Death, ourselves. Death gazes into us enough, does it not? We must turn away from the abyss, from the tomb. We must not allow ourselves to become monstrous, to become monsters, to become monsters to ourselves, to become monsters to each other. What to do?

 Turn around. Mary turns away from the tomb and she is confused. In John she turns and sees the gardener, who is actually Jesus. In Mark, she turns from the angel who has just told her that Jesus will meet her and the disciples at Bethany, and she goes away afraid and tells no one. She is confused. We are confused. We must turn around from the certainty of the abyssal tomb to the uncertainty of life.

The story of the gospels is radical, upsetting, revealing. To turn towards it is a radical Event. To life interpolating between the certainty of the tomb and the hope of the resurrection is dizzying, but this is the Christian story. It is the hope against hope, the most radical hope. Hope in an Other. Can it be done? One hopes so.

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By Burke
Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.


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