Today was Easter. Easter is a big deal. We make a big deal of Easter.
It isn’t a big deal to a lot of people. Easter for some people is no more than a day of candy, and for others it isn’t even that. It’s just a day.
What’s the difference between Easter being a big deal and just a day?
There are a lot of easy answers to that question:
Being raised in a Christian culture.
Hearing the Gospel.
Intersecting with someone who has experienced God.
Experiencing God’s Spirit.
Being indoctrinated in the Christian faith.
The way you answer that question–or the answer you would pick from that list–probably indicates something about your relationship with Easter, as well.
Easter is Resurrection Day. We make this the biggest day of the year, bigger than Christmas or Pentecost, because what we believe about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and ourselves and the world all hinges on this day. They all hinge on the historical event that did or did not happen for which we claim this day.
A friend of mine who is a Christian told me recently, “I wonder if I believe this because I was raised with it.” I think that’s a fair question to ask. I don’t think it invalidates Christianity, but it is reasonable to consider whether, if you or I were raised in a Muslim country with four Christians among ten million people, would we have heard the Gospel? Would we be Christians?
The most difficult part, for me, of being a Christian is other Christians. I will say that straight out. If I’m honest, I then have to ask if I am the most difficult part of being a Christian for some other people. I might be. Sometimes I don’t believe what they believe or speak like they speak.
Now, having said both of those, I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus whom we call Christ, Messiah. I don’t believe it because the Bible says it, though that is why I know it. I don’t believe it because other people have told me about it, though that is how I first came to take it seriously.
No, I believe that Jesus, the Jew from first-century Nazareth (via Bethlehem) rose from the dead because I’m alive. I don’t mean spiritually. I mean I believe in Jesus’ resurrection because I’m not dead. I believe because I have not killed myself. I believe because I am alive.
I mean I believe in Jesus’ resurrection because I’m not dead.
I don’t get into pissing contests with people about things like depression or mental illness or suffering. People have suffered far more than I could fathom and have survived more than I ever could. But what I’ve lived through, I have survived because Jesus rose from the dead. That’s not a proof for you, but I know it. I don’t believe it, I know it. Faith is crucial in the spiritual life. Some things are hard to believe, like that there is hope for this battered, brutal and abusive world. But I live by faith in an invisible God because I’m alive, in the physical world, with a ridiculously wonderful bride and four children* and neither my own stupidity nor my depression, neither my dysfunctional childhood nor my self-destructive choices have put me in the ground. I have to credit God with that.
After our son Isaac died, I would have been happy to die. There were many days when I would have preferred it. I cursed God and decided that, if this is what following him was like, I would try not following him, instead. For about two years, I rejected the things I had believed, including Jesus himself. This happened after I had gone through seminary and served as a pastor. I continually flipped God off. My prayers were mostly four-letter words directed at God.
That was the worst stretch, but it wasn’t the only one. Dealing with depression means facing that the bottom can drop out again, just as it has before. But in every bout with depression, I have experienced God’s presence. God hasn’t waved his wand and magically healed me, but even through the time I was cursing him and telling people I could no longer believe in or trust him, God stayed with me.
I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus because I have seen other resurrected people.
I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus because I have seen other resurrected people. I know former addicts and alcoholics who live productive, influential lives now. God transformed them. Jesus, who rose from the dead, also raised them from death to life. If you’ve been dying of alcoholism, you know that’s not exaggeration.
I’ve seen hateful people learn to love and bitter people learn to forgive (and I’ve been one of those, too). I know, personally, many victims of childhood abuse and incest who have overcome their suffering and shame and become vessels of healing and grace to others.
The folks in my organization, Servant Partners, are mostly highly educated, extremely capable and hard working women and men, and they have chosen downward mobility. They live in slums in order to build relationships with people living in poverty, and they do this to follow the resurrected Jesus, who said that when you care for the hungry or thirsty or sick or strangers (i.e. immigrants, refugees) or imprisoned or naked, you are caring for him.
I don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection because of what Servant Partners does, but these Jesus followers are a powerful testament to God’s revolutionary love. Some of them are a pain in the butt, too. I’m not talking about holy saints without tarnish or a speck of dust; I’m talking about real human beings with degrees from prestigious universities and huge earning potential who choose instead to pursue empowering those who can’t repay them, those who aren’t good networking buddies, those who might be going hungry, or getting prostituted, tonight. [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The Jesus I know doesn’t scream at or ridicule people he disagrees with politically; he touches people the rest of society shuns and his touch heals them.[/pullquote]
The Jesus I know doesn’t scream at or ridicule people he disagrees with politically; he touches people the rest of society shuns and his touch heals them. I think more people would believe if they saw this Jesus. The screaming, politically-compromised Jesus, he’s a figment of certain people’s imagination. That delusion has done a lot of harm.
I do believe in the Resurrection. There are intellectual arguments and “proofs.” They aren’t the basis of my faith, though I don’t naysay them. It’s hard to explain how a motley crew of terrified followers turned into the radical group that boldly proclaimed Jesus crucified and risen from the dead and began the spread of Christianity throughout the world. Something changed. It’s tough to say why a hyper-committed first-century Jew like Saul would break kosher laws and become the most outspoken advocate for a “cult” whose followers he had hunted down and helped kill.
Some horrible human beings count themselves among the followers of Jesus. We must acknowledge that. Is It an equal counter-argument? I don’t believe so. Two things: 1)Horrible people following Jesus might be better than those same people not following Jesus. There isn’t an objective measure for transformation. We all suck and we’re all learning to be faithful. 2)”Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven,” said Jesus.** Sobering, that. I don’t sit in the judgment seat, nor will God ever invite me to be a guest judge–even a celebrity one. But some people who believe they follow Jesus, don’t. I won’t hope that on anyone, and the flip side, again according to Jesus, is that the lowest in society’s eyes–tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners and people from “east and west, from north and south”–will enter the Kingdom of heaven. In other words, some folks who expect to be in won’t be, and some folks the rest of us expect won’t be, will.
But mainly I know about me. I know God has saved my life from the pit, repeatedly. Stubbornly. I know who I would be without God and I could not stand that person. I think I would not stand that person. I am the first to tell you that I am screwed up in many ways, but what I am, I am by the grace of God, and truthfully, I am an agent of hope to many people. I’m so grateful to be this. I have seen the grace of God in my life, I have seen God’s beauty through the people around me, and I have seen the power of the resurrection of Jesus, Yeshua, who is messiah and who has saved me from myself.
What have you seen?
**Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’