Sunday, April 20, 2014

Risen indeed

An Egyptian-American Muslim colleague of mine  received an e-mail from his Egyptian-American Coptic friend, addressed to a roster of friends and acquaintances both Christian and Muslim.   The message read, in its entirety:

Have a blessed Easter.
Risen indeed.

Now, my colleague often has difficulties with nuances of English, even after a couple of decades of residence in the U.S.   But he did understand that this terse and telegraphic phrase asserted the Resurrection of Jesus.
Though Muslim to the core, he is quite accepting of the other Abrahamic faiths (indeed, has more than once attended services with Christian friends), and he was happy to receive this blessing from a friend.   He then asked me, in confidence (since he knows that I am candid about such things), whether all Christian denominations believed in the Resurrection.
            “Um … yes,” I replied.   (The “Um” part was to stall for time while the taken-aback-sensation passed.  In a similar fashion, some years ago, a young woman colleague, university-educated and soon to be well traveled, asked me out of the blue, “Do Jews believe that Jesus is the Messiah?”   -- “Um … no,” was my reply.)

His own reply was a surprise.  Then we believe the same thing!” he exclaimed, beaming.   For the Koran (he went on) proclaimed that God “lifted” Jesus up to Paradise (rafa`a).   I expressed satisfaction at this congruence, and privately desired that the message might spread to outfits like ISIL and Boko Haram, who might, please, accordingly  knock it off.

He went on to inform me that (according to Muslims) Jesus of Nazareth (upon whom be peace) had not actually been crucified.   I had heard this motif before in connection with the Ahmadiyya (a pure simulacrum had been crucified in his place); but my colleague added a neat twist, reminiscent of the trope wherein the executioner hoists with his own petard:   God had caused the very soldier leading Jesus to Golgotha  to suddenly take on the mild carpenter’s appearance.  
That’s not in the Koran,” I frowned.  -- “No,” he conceded.
“Hadith?”  (There are tens of thousands of these, some sounder than others, you never known what might be found in some of the doubtful ones.)  --  He considered.  “In the culture,” he finally said.
Which is to say:  Folklore, like “December 25”.   (None but the most ignorant Christian will take offense if you state that we really have no idea what day Jesus was born on.)

Well -- He is born, and He is risen.  Peace on Earth, good will to men.

A vision common to Christianity and Islam
(Nur mit ein bißchen anderen Worten)


[Philological footnote]  The Arabic, rafa`, is literally ‘raised’.   Thus, it is not quite equivalent to resurrexit, in what might elsewhere be a small  but is here a crucial difference:  rafa` is comptabile with Jesus having been raised to Paradise while still alive, like Elijah.  There is nothing in the Koran saying that he was risen from the dead.


With our linguistic caps on, let us look more closely at the wording of that greeting.   To a Muslim with an uncertain grasp of English, it might seem no more than you might find on a Hallmark card.   It is thus the perfect two-tier or encapsulated expression:   no more than a smooth rock, or black box, to the uninitiated;  but a treasure-chest  which springs open at the click, to initiates.

The standard American greetings that those of my generation grew up with  were “Happy Easter” and “Merry Christmas”.   But as those holdays became increasingly commercialized, some observent Christians have come increasingly to say “Blessed Easter” or “Easter Blessings”, to make it plain that they are actually referring to the holy-day and not simply a time to hunt eggs or find discounts at the Mall (or as a counterpunch to the latterday degradation of even “Merry Christmas” to “Season’s Greetings”).  You would not say it to someone you knew to be an atheist;  though you might say it to a kindly stranger.
Risen indeed”, by contrast, is not used  even by the generality of Christians, let alone to those of other faiths or none.  It specifically echoes the antiphonal style of worship, priest and congregation:  “The Lord be with you” Rx: “And also with you.”  “Christ is risen.” Rx: “He is risen indeed.”   And by leaving off the first two words of the latter formula, pronoun and auxiliary verb, the writer made it clear that he was echoing the ritual greeting, which you may hear in Orthodox, Catholic and Episcopal services, but not among churches whose liturgy or worship-style is not antiphonal.

The English Wikipedia has a particlarly magnificent article on this topic, as does the Russian version:

Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!

[Update]  The whole offering-and-response style recalls, actually, Arabic.  There are dozens or scores, if not hundreds, of formulaic greetings and blessings, each with a prescribed response.   This scarcely exists in English, apart from “Thank you” -- “You’re welcome”.  (Arabic:  shukran. -- `afwan.)

Thus:  To al-salaam `aleykum, you reply Wa-`alaykum al-salaam.  (“Hello.” -- “Hello back.”)
To SabaaH al-xayr (“Good morning”), SabaaH al-nuur (literally “Morning of light”;  with many further variants.)
To na`iiman! (a salutation to someone who has evidently just bathed, or shaved, or had a haircut):  Allah yin`im `ayleek.
And so on.

There is thus, both a theological aspect to the responsory mode of worship, and a cultural/aesthetic one:  both typical of the Mideast.

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