In time for Holy Week, this issue features David Cunningham’s essay on the destiny of the “other thief” who was on the cross beside Jesus. It also contains William H. Willimon’s witness to the radical news of Easter.
A year before my mother died, she heard her father call to her during the night. When I visited her in the nursing center, she said his voice was so clear that she answered and struggled to get up. This was the first sign that she would spend her final year of life in a twilight that blended past and present.
A generation ago, Ernest Becker taught us that the fear of dying is the mainspring of all human activity, from our smallest efforts at survival to our loftiest cultural achievements. So far as I can tell, our species continues to confirm that thesis.
"We are witnesses to these things," said Peter. Yet as the gospel for the second Sunday of Easter opens, "these things" do not include Jesus' resurrection. That morning Peter had seen an empty tomb with some scattered linens. He had witnessed absence, not resurrection. At that point, he had not even witnessed Jesus' death—he had missed his chance. Yet soon Peter becomes one of the boldest and most powerful of witnesses to Jesus' message, death and resurrection. Clearly something happened.
Chances are that your world is either experiencing or anticipating an awakening earth after months of winter slumber. Grass is turning green, azaleas are splashing the landscape with brilliant reds, dogwoods are sprouting pink and white blooms—little Easter catechisms shaped like crosses and complete, each one, with a crown of thorns. When the birds begin their morning songs these days, and the bees their carpentry, we imagine that the sounds they make are Easter music served up by nature, as the church’s most important holy day coincides with the renewed activity of creation.
An old joke has a graduate student giving the news to the great theologian Paul Tillich: “They’ve discovered the bones of Jesus!” To which Tillich replies, in his thick German accent, “So he really did exist!” Christianity began with reports of an empty tomb and appearances of a risen Lord. For St.