Series: Church Talk
Apr 8th | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | 1 Corinthians 15:3-22
Throughout the season of Lent, we’ve been taking a look at some of the most important words of the Christian faith. Today, we come to the most important of the most important words – resurrection. What else could we possibly talk about on Easter morning? We all think we know what it means. But, do we?
There’s not much to make of the word itself. It’s an anglicized version of the Latin word “resurrection,” which is itself a form of the Latin “resurgo,” which means, “I rise.” But, if you get out of a chair, or climb out of bed on a spring morning when you’d just as soon sleep in at someone else’s insistence, or stand up for a hymn, you are “rising.” So, there must be more to resurrection than that.
What brings us all here this morning, of course, is the resurrection of Jesus. Easter is the most important Christian festival and the most ancient. Even earlier than the celebration of Easter is the Easter proclamation: “God raised Jesus.”
Now, while the Bible makes much of the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus, it makes nothing of what happened – the “how” of the resurrection. The Bible is strangely silent about how Jesus was raised and since there were no witnesses to the moment of resurrection, we will never really know how it happened.
There are those Christians, many of whom have rediscovered the downtown this morning, who insist that unless you believe a particular answer to the “how” of the resurrection, you’re not really a Christian and not really saved. For many, unless you believe that if there had been security cameras rolling in the garden that first Easter morning, then you would have been able to see Jesus walk out of the tomb. They take a literal-factual stance on this subject (and others) and unless you toe that doctrinal line, you’re not saved.
And because the language of the church is often symbolic language and we live in a world where language is most often taken literally, let’s just come right out and say it clearly and concisely. You do not have to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to be a Christian. You do not have to believe that you could have taken a picture of Jesus on Easter afternoon in order to be his disciple.
A few years back, there was a great brew-ha-ha over an ossuary box that was supposed to contain the bones of Jesus’ brother James. The box was eventually dismissed as unauthentic. But, the reason people got so excited was the possibility that if the bones of James could be discovered, could it be that the bones of Jesus were somewhere nearby? And if the bones of Jesus were nearby and discovered and authenticated, would that mean the end of Christianity?
Frankly, I doubt that the bones of Jesus will ever be discovered. But, what if they were? Would that cause the Christian faith to crumble and die? Would that cause doubt to replace belief and commitment? Would the bones of Jesus make Christianity a lie?
No – not at all – because resurrection means more than resuscitation. Resurrection means more than a man who had been brutally killed, coming back to life three days later. Resurrection means more than physical evidence. It is to that additional meaning we now turn.
There are, at least, three things we should say about what the resurrection means. (You knew there would be three, right?) So, here they come.
First, the resurrection means that Jesus was not just a figure of the past, but one who is continually experienced as a reality in the present. Jesus was not and is not, as Marcus Borg puts it, “a flesh-and-blood, corpuscular, protoplasmic Jesus.”[i] That was the pre-Easter Jesus. After Easter, the earliest disciples came to the belief that though Jesus was no longer physically with them, he was nonetheless a living reality of their present.
You catch an echo of it in the opening verses of the great resurrection chapter we heard again from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” The witness of Christians has always been that Jesus is not gone but powerfully and compellingly present. Easter made that real.
Second, the resurrection means that the experience of Jesus grew from a continual presence to a divine reality. The more the early Christians experienced the post-Easter presence of Jesus, the more they seemed to understand the reality of God. Think of it this way: Jesus became the lens through which people came to most clearly understand the reality of God.
The story of the Apostle Thomas is the story of the early church. Thomas could not believe in the resurrection of a body. He was absolutely unconvinced. But, after encountering the risen Christ, Thomas made his confession, “My Lord and my God!” It was not long before Christians were using other divine descriptions to talk about Jesus: “Messiah,” “Son of God,” “Lord,” "Savior of the World,” “Word of God,” “Light of the World,” and my personal favorite, “Emmanuel – God with us.” Easter was the starting point of seeing Jesus, not just as a teacher and prophet, but as God.
And finally, the resurrection means that the declaration of “Jesus is raised!” became “Jesus is Lord!” In the early days of the Roman Empire, Roman citizens were required to pledge their allegiance to the Emperor by proclaiming, “Caesar is lord!” “Caesar is the ultimate authority! Caesar is our provider! Caesar is the answer to all of life’s deepest longings!”
It was not long before the early Christians began to refuse to pledge their allegiance to Caesar and, instead, began to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!” Earthly powers and authorities could no longer claim to be the supreme authority. Later, John the Revealer would write the words you’ll hear again this morning, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” Surpassing emperors, princes, potentates, prime ministers, and presidents – the Risen and Living Christ has taken the supreme place in the lives of those who confess him and even in the lives of those who ignore him.
Easter prompted that change in the way we see the world. Easter moved us from “Jesus is raised!” to “Jesus is Lord!” and all who think they are lords of this life are mistaken and deluded.
Easter is much, much more than just the resuscitation of a dead body. Easter is the heartbeat of the Christian faith and if they showed up tomorrow morning with the undisputable evidence of Jesus’ bones, it wouldn’t change a thing. For, as Christians always have, we have experienced the living presence of Jesus for ourselves. Through the risen Christ, we come to know the reality of God. And as God’s love for us in Jesus becomes more and more evident, we see God in Jesus Christ as our life-source, our font of blessing, our hope, and nothing less than God-with-us.
And if all of that were not enough, here’s the icing on the cake: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” This whole resurrection business is not just about Jesus – it’s about you and you and you and me. The resurrection of Jesus makes it possible for us to proclaim: “Hallelujah!” – literally “Praise God!” And the resurrection makes it possible for us to proclaim it for now and evermore. Amen.
[i] Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian, p. 86