I’m told that slave owners would use Easter and the promise of eternal life to keep their slaves submissive. “Pie in the sky by and by” was the phrase. The idea was to use the hope of a better future in the next world as a way of motivating them to put up with their bondage in this world.
I think that approach had it half right and half wrong.
The half wrong part was to use the promise of eternal life in the future to keep people slaves in the present. Those slave owners should have attended Passover Seders where they would have been reminded that God is in the business of freeing slaves from bondage.
That said, here’s the paradox. On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and told them to love each other as he had loved them, i.e. as taking the form of a slave he humbled himself. You see the paradox? God is militantly opposed to anyone or anything enslaving his people, and at the same time he is commanding us to choose the life of a servant as we relate to each other.
One way of looking at the Resurrection on Easter is that it is a confirmation that the way of service is the way God has chosen to liberate us and a counter-cultural, counter-intuitive declaration that servanthood is the way to the fullness of life we all long for.
We all know from experience, of course, that taking the posture of a servant is a set up for some people to take advantage of you or dismiss you as not understanding reality. That’s why, in the short run, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, must be understood as walking hand in hand with us through this life.
Easter is a bold proclamation that, IN THE LONG, LONG RUN, servanthood (aka Love) is that only way to life. There is pie in the sky by and by. That’s a promise. It’s not intended to keep us passive and submissive but to assure us that our struggle to experience the fullness of life for ourselves and create it for others is not an exercise in futility. As a black friend of mine of saying as we part, “In the struggle!”