Holy Week is upon us. This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, Friday will be Good Friday, and the coming Sunday marks Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Easter presents us with the paramount question of the Christian faith. Did Jesus actually rise from the dead? Either he did, making him the perfect Lord of all creation and the rightful possessor of all glory. Or Joseph’s tomb remained occupied (if it was ever filled at all) and Christianity is a lie. There is no in between. Either Easter is the most important event in all of history or the whole Christian faith is utterly worthless, from “In the beginning” at the beginning of Genesis to the amen ending the Revelation of John and all thought built upon that foundation.
Perhaps not totally. Jews hold the Old Testament to be Scripture, Muslims have a respectful but more complex relationship with it, and both groups deny the divinity and resurrection of Jesus. I suppose certain truths in the Christian tradition could still be true even if Christ didn’t rise from the dead. Mankind can be by nature sinful or evil even without the resurrection. However, Christian thought holds Jesus to be the turning point of all history and the centerpiece of the entire tradition. All of our beliefs are dependant on the fact that this Jesus character literally lived a sinless life, was literally killed by the Romans, and then literally rose from the dead on Easter morning. Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” If Easter isn’t a celebration of something that actually happened, our struggles are in vain, our prayers are heard only by the air, and our faith is completely and utterly meaningless.
Some people want to have their cake and eat it too with regards to the resurrection. They want to accept Jesus as a good moral teacher worthy of being emulated, but they can’t quite accept that he rose from the dead. The problem is that Jesus claimed to be God, both directly and indirectly, and his teaching was grounded upon his authority as such. To borrow from CS Lewis, if the Gospels are to be generally believed and their teachings worth being followed, then Jesus was Lord, capable of rising from the dead, or he was a liar or a lunatic and his teachings are useless. He cannot just be Buddha, Confucius, or even Mohammed, mortal men with insights into greater truths. His teaching is dependent on his divinity and his divinity is dependent upon his resurrection. Of course, that begs the question of whether the Gospels are trustworthy, which is an important question I don’t want to sideline, but a long one we will have to save for another time.
The problem for those of us who do profess belief in the resurrection is a little different. Because if the tomb is empty that changes everything.
If the tomb was empty and the heart of Jesus beat once again then he is Lord. Nothing could ever challenge him. No statement about his grandeur could ever be hyperbolic. He is the one before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord.
The aspect about Easter we don’t stress enough is that it makes Jesus the Lord of Life. He had access to life so complete he was literally unable to die. Also, being without sin, that gave him access to God, who we Christians understand as the life-giver. Jesus said in John 10 “but I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” His resurrection proved that he possessed exclusive knowledge as to the nature of that good life.
What does it mean to live? Better minds than mine have sought to answer that question, and it will be another important question we will save for another time. But the resurrection is a proclamation that life, true life, can be lived only through Jesus, who possesses the knowledge of what that life is.
You might have noticed I have been making statements about the meaning of the resurrection and not attempting to persuade skeptics about its veracity. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, if I am going to argue for the Christian faith, I wouldn’t start with the resurrection, even if it is the fact the entire faith is dependent upon. When a young boy looks at the stars and asks “how can this be?” you don’t begin by telling him about gravity or the Big Bang. You begin somewhere else so that once the intellectual framework is built, he can more easily recognize and accept the foundation it is built upon. So it is with the resurrection. On a more general level, I’m also not sure how useful logical arguments are when it comes to making disciples. I can say “Jesus rose from the dead” and while that fact ought to change everything, there’s no guarantee that it will. Faith and knowledge are two separate things. Ultimately, access to the resurrection life will not come through mine or anyone else’s arguments, however robust, but by the power of the Holy Spirit available to all through the grace of God. That is not to discount apologetics but is to understand logic alone cannot make disciples.
Moreover, I’m more concerned here with believers than nonbelievers. I’m less focused on convincing people of the truth of the resurrection as much as helping those who believe to understand the inheritance of the resurrection. For in the resurrection, Jesus proved both his credentials to claim to be the ultimate knowledge on what it means to have life and made that life available to us. Our inheritance from the resurrection is life and life abundantly.