Christ the Lord is risen today.
We all sing it proudly this morning, but it might be the most scandalous claim in human history.
I know I talked about the scandal of a crucified God on Monday and those scandals are definitely there, but in the age of science in which we live that tells us definitively that death is the end, is there anything more scandalous, more ridiculous to declare than death was not the end for a carpenter from Nazareth?
I mean, think about the audacious claim we’re making as we sing those words. We’re claiming that God became flesh and dwelt among us, then died – died bloody and bruised on a cross – and then that same incarnate Jesus defeated death and walked out the grave alive and well.
Forgetting the mystery of the incarnation for a moment, the idea that a person – whether that person be God-incarnate or just an everyday Joe – could be resurrected from the dead is just too much to accept in an age of breathtaking science that tells unequivocally that resurrection is impossible.
Clinically dead for a few minutes and resuscitated?
But dead for three day and resurrected?
I have to admit that there are many days when I struggle with the resurrection. It is the bedrock of my faith, but my rational mind tells me it can’t be true. And so, like the disciples on Holy Saturday, I doubt. A lot. Because for me, if there is no physical, historical resurrection, if Jesus of Nazareth did not bodily walk out of the tomb that first Easter morning, then I see no point to the Christian faith.
Sure, Jesus’ teachings are great, but for me, without a physical, historical resurrection there is no hope that God is actually doing something transformative in the here and now or will do anything at any point in the future. For if God can’t raise this one man, then how can we hope for a day when God will bring resurrection to all of creation?
Without a physical, historical resurrection, Christianity is a faith trapped in despair. It’s a faith that stops at the cross and a gospel that has no bearing on the physical world.
Without a physical, historical resurrection, there is no good news.
But because it defies my understanding and the limits of what my scientific mind is willing to accept, I still struggle with the resurrection.
And yet I’ll stand up and sing today anyway because I can’t escape a feeling deep in my soul that something did happen that first Easter morning which forever changed the reality of the world we live in and the world to come.
I can’t prove it.
I don’t have any video of Jesus walking out of the tomb or pictures of a resurrected Jesus or the resurrected Jesus himself to present as definitive proof.
But I do have an empty tomb.
And I do have eyewitness testimony.
And I do have the record of people who experienced something so dramatic, so earth shattering that it radically transformed the course of not only their own lives, but of history itself.
But even still, I don’t believe in the resurrection simply because the Bible tells me so.
I believe in the resurrection because I have encountered the resurrected Christ in my own life.
I’ve held his nail pierced hand as my family has held on to me through the storms of life and refused to let me feel as if I was alone, unloved, or unacceptable. I’ve touched the wound in his side when my friends have embraced and supported me through times of trial and weakness. I’ve seen miracles in the kindness of mere acquaintances and total strangers who have extended grace and mercy to me when I did not deserve it.
Could those simply be kind acts from nice people?
But I’m not convinced.
To me, they’re glimpses of the resurrected life.
Of course, I’ve experienced kindness from people who do not claim the Christian faith. But what distinguishes the moments I believe were encounters with the resurrected Christ from moments I would call acts of prevenient grace is the ongoing, self-emptying life of sacrificial love I see incarnated in those who have and continue to extend grace to me that beckons me to “go and do likewise.”
To me, they’re the power and proof of the resurrection.
This is why the church grounds the Christian faith in the historical, physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Aside from the fact that Christianity makes no sense apart from the resurrection, to affirm the resurrection of Jesus is to affirm the reality that God is really and truly at work in the physical world, endowing it with hope, gifting it with grace, and slowly but surely transforming it into the place it was created to be.
That’s why I am not interested in a spiritual resurrection that either divorces God’s work in the physical here and now from a spiritual hope for what God may do in the future or which relegates that transforming moment in time to an esoteric ideal sparked in the imagination of a few ancient religious zealots.
I find the notion that the resurrection of Jesus was simply a spiritual idea to be an utterly empty, completely unsatisfying, and totally hopeless claim. As I said before, if the resurrection of Jesus was not a historical, physical moment that continues to transform and renew the historical, physical world we live in, then, for me, it is not something worth believing in. Or as Paul said to the church in Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
But as disinterested as I am in a spiritual resurrection, I’m just as uninterested in the resurrection simply as a belief to be affirmed.
Peter Rollins has a beautiful talk that he gives in which he speaks about how he denies the resurrection. It’s intentionally framed to get the audience to believe Rollins is taking an unorthodox stance on a central orthodox theological tenet of faith.
In reality, he is exposing how divorced our lives so often are from our faith.
We claim to believe that all things have been made new, that the mighty have been brought down and the least made great, that new life has been extended to the dead and the dying. And yet we do nothing to help bring that resurrection reality to fruition. Instead, we live our lives as if nothing really changed that first Easter morning. Which means, as Rollins so eloquently puts it, every time we refuse to extend the love and grace that has been given to us, we deny the reality of the resurrection.
It should really come as no surprise that so many are so disinterested in a Church that increasingly defines itself by political positions and what she doesn’t do and who she doesn’t associate with, rather the ways in which she incarnates the resurrected Christ to the world. They hear us shout the good news from the mountaintop, but they don’t see us live it out in the valley.
Tragically, the resurrection has become for many of us nothing more than another doctrine to be affirmed in order to secure our ticket to heaven.
It’s something to believe in, not something to live out.
But if the historical, physical resurrection we claim to believe in is not also a historical, physical life we lead that helps transform the historical, physical world we live in, then the Church and the gospel she proclaims is not something worth believing in.
Or to put it another way, if the historical, physical, reality transforming resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth does not result in historical, physical, reality transforming people, then as a Church we deny the resurrection more unequivocally than any archaeological dig or scientific experiment ever could.
Don’t get me wrong. I am under no illusion that being on our best behavior will necessarily win over all the skeptics. But I do believe, or at least I want to believe, that when it comes to the resurrection, part of the reason so many people don’t believe in the unbelievable is that the Church gives them no reason for doing so.
Which is why if we are going to stand up and sing “Christ the Lord is risen today,” then we must be ready to out the resurrected life tomorrow.
Otherwise, as Brennan Manning would say, we acknowledge the resurrection by our lips, walk out the door, and deny it by our lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.