The Gospel According to St. Hereticus
Scripture Lesson for Easter
“St. Hereticus” was Robert McAfee Brown (1920-2001), a good old-fashioned left-leaning American theologian who published a series of satirical jabs under his heretical pseudonym for many years around the middle of the twentieth century. This piece was published in Christianity and Crisis, March 16, 1959. It was a lot funnier in the late 50s, no doubt, when a theologian could presuppose that American culture had a thin veneer of country club Christianity over it, a veneer which needed a good dose of theological mockery. But it’s still funny today, and since St. Hereticus has lapsed into undeserved obscurity, I post it here.
In a previous installment I offered a new text for the Advent lesson, a kind of prologue to a fifth gospel, on the assumption that the canon is not closed and that future church councils will want to take all new manuscripts into account. It seems to me that something of the sort is also called for in the Easter season. In what follows, therefore, I offer the Easter story as it has come to be told in the oral traditions of modern culture-religion. While some will urge that it belongs to the genre of saga, folklore, tradition or myth, other will want to insist that it is not, for all that, the less true. It should be clear, at all events, that this is not something that I have “made up.” It is sober and straight-forward reporting of the various strata of twentieth-century religion. Students of the Formgeschichte Schule who want to disentangle the various sources can start from the fact that the extant versions draw on at least the following sources: SS (Sunday Schools), ss (sermons by seminarians), Ss (Sunday supplements), Pp (Protestant pulpits), RC (Radio Commercials), and StSp (Sermon topics in Saturday’s papers).
The Gospel According to St. Hereticus
1 But on the first day of the week, toward dawn, they arose and went to the garden in convertibles, ranch wagons, and Corvettes, wearing on their persons the spices they had prepared for the occasion. 2 And behold, as the sun burst forth there was a great blast from four trumpets, drawn from the local high school marching band. And at the blast of the trumpets, an Easter bunny, wondrous large, stood before them. 3 His appearance was like lightning and his fur was white as snow. 4 And he did carry a sign affixed to his hat bearing the words “Courtesy of Jones’ Department Store.”
5 And in great joy at his appearing, all the children began to clamor and to shout, 6 saying as with one voice, “Who will roll away the eggs for us?” 7 For at his appearance it was as though the miracle of spring had been enacted once again, and that from the belly of the Easter bunny had come forth many eggs, some green, some yellow, some chocolate; and red, white and blue ones not a few.
8 And the parents were grieved and afraid for the children, that they would pick up the eggs and pelt one another therewith. 9 For it was the custom in that place that on Easter morn all believers were to dress in new raiment. And the parents were afraid not only for the children’s raiment but for their own as well, 10 for verily all those assembled were believers and were wearing new and shining apparel for which they had paid beyond their means, some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold.
11 Then all with one cry took up the refrain, “Behold the miracle of spring!” 12 And those on the left did cry aloud, “I believe in the deep greenness of the new-mown grass,” 13 while those on the right were heard to say, “Verily once again from out the earth hath come forth shoots,” 14 and all together raised their voices in a mighty chorus to repeat together, “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”
15 But certain scoffers there were among them who did say, 16 “Ye know not what ye do. 17 Is this not the great miracle of the irruption of eternity into time? 18 Know ye not that the eschatological moment of all the aeons is here compressed into the facticity of the concrete, specific and unrepeatable?” 19 But they said unto them, “We will hear of this another time,” 20 and they turned their backs on them. 21 Whereat the scoffers said one to another, “It is as we have always heard. The multitudes will not hear gladly the simple word of the Gospel, for their ears are verily stopped by the sin of their hubris.” 22 And they went away content among themselves.
23 And others there were in their midst who did not speak on this wise: “Easter is the season of joy. Be joyful in the God of your choice, all ye lands. Serve the God of your choice with earrings, come before his presence with new clothes, and show yourself glad in him with raiment and new finer.” 24 And then, with scarcely a change in intonation, the voices went on to say, 25 “For a small down payment you can own the hat of your choice with which to worship the God of your choice. Show your faith in the future by buying now and paying later.” 26 And all with one impulse did go forth, and he that had no money went, bought and did eat, and they all with one accord did sing forth praise to one another’s raiment.
27 But privily each one said to himself of the other, “Why did she buy that ghastly hat?”
28 And some did carry placards with words of cheer inscribed thereon, for the hope and consolation of the multitudes. 29 And affixed thereto were words for the season, to wit: 30 “There Is No Death,” 31 and “Make Every Day Easter Day,” to which latter sign was appended in smaller letters inscribed beneath, “By Banishing All Thought of Death.” 32 And one there was whose banner went, in a glorious affirmation of the entire festival, “The Miracle of Easter is the Miracle of Spring.” 33 “And many there were who carried words too small to read, but whose meaning was writ large by pictures affixed thereto, of green leaves, pansies and new ploughed fields.
34 And through it all none was discouraged save three. 35 And they went out and fled. For trembling and astonishment had come upon them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Some of the textual critics have suggested that the MSS has broken off in the middle of a sentence. I’m willing to let it stand as is. It seems a fit conclusion.