An Easter message
What does it mean that Jesus was resurrected?
He brought back others from the dead – Lazarus, and the son of the widow at Nain – because he carried life within himself, because he was the very Word of God, calling forth a new creation out of the carnage of death.
But his resurrection we hold to be qualitatively different. Is it because we, like the women approaching the tomb with trepidation before dawn, cannot see who is raising him, who is calling him out of his grave clothes, who is rolling away the stone? So the mystery is magnified; but there is more.
Jesus was crucified as a criminal. He was rejected as a madman with a messiah complex. He was taunted as a failure and betrayed by his friends. It looked as though the whole Jesus project had come to an ignominious end.
What happened when he was resurrected, in part, as many theologians have written, was that he was justified. He who claimed to be the Son of God looked like a fool when he died on the cross, but by dawn’s early light his identity was confirmed.[i]
Far from being rejected and abandoned by God, his resurrection made clear God’s will at work in his life all along, in his incarnation, even in the solidarity of death, and in its defeat. The resurrection was God’s third word from heaven: “This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to him.”
What does it mean for us that Jesus was resurrected?
We hold that, unlike Lazarus and the son of the widow at Nain, Jesus, having once defeated death, would never die again. Death no longer had any dominion over him. This mortal man, as human as they come, born of a woman and crushed to death as a criminal on the cross – this man had trounced death, the devil, and the worst that this world could do to him, and he would live with his victory at God’s right hand for ever.
He did not, in a breath, undo the wickedness of the world—his wounds remained with him. But he had overcome it. He overwhelmed it with the creative and powerful force of God’s love, God’s life.
The wickedness of the world is still manifest about us, even within us. We carry its scars and we inflict its wounds on others. We crucify people for their differences from us, or we stand by and watch them be crucified. We crush people with poverty out of fear which leads to greed. We refuse to listen to the fears of others, out of fear that they will burden us with recognition or repentance. We still kill those whom we deem criminal, as though we learned nothing from the cross. We live with the wickedness of the world, and too often we make our peace with it, instead of bringing God’s peace to confront it.
The resurrection of Jesus confronts the cruelty of the crucifiers, those who wield the cross, those who left marks in his hands, his feet, his side, thorns in his head – Jesus has not undone their wickedness, but he has overwhelmed it with the goodness, the graciousness, the liveliness, the love of God. He has answered sin with forgiveness, violence with pity. He has answered death with eternal life. And what will be our answer?
The women went to the tomb expecting to find a corpse, the unfortunate end of a man. Instead, they found an angel. They were afraid; he told them to be unafraid, that Jesus would come and meet them just where they had first met him, at home in Galilee, in the landscape of their ordinary lives, in the midst of a messy and complicated world: the world that God created and we exploited. The women went to the tomb, expecting to uncover death. Instead they found its coverings rolled away.
Resurrected, Jesus came back to his people, and he loved them out of their grief and his suffering. He remained true, in his resurrection, to the calling of his incarnation: to use his humanity for healing, his relationships for grace, his life for love.
What does it mean for Jesus to be resurrected? It means that, “having loved his own, he loved them to the end;” and that his love has no end. It is stronger than death. It is longer than life. From the cradle to the grave and out the other side, “Christ is risen” means that Jesus loves you, now and forever. Amen.
[i] See, for example, Alan E. Lewis, Between the Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Wm. B. Eerdmans, ), and John Barton, Love Unknown: Meditations on the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (SLG Press, 1999)