While planning our Easter service for this year I ran across a hymn called “Cristo Vive” or “Christ is Risen” that said, “If the Lord had never risen, we’d have nothing to believe.” And I thought to myself, really? Is it true? If Jesus had never risen, if we had no resurrection story, would we have nothing to believe? It’s possible that the resurrection story is the reason Jesus got such great press in the ancient world. So, maybe his story wouldn’t have spread as well without it, but would we actually have no God to believe in? Would we not even believe in the teachings of Jesus?
(For the full audio version of the sermon, click here.)
I’ve never really known what to make of the resurrection stories. Each of the gospel accounts differ a bit from the others. People have argued for centuries over whether Jesus was simply resuscitated, whether his body was stolen, whether the accounts were simply about visions, whether he really died or it just seemed like his body was dead. We can debate that until the cows come home, but in the end we really don’t know. And, I’m convinced that it doesn’t matter (or at least not to my faith).
Okay… this may be a little bit radical, but I’m going there anyway… Jesus is not the only death and resurrection story out there. In fact, there are numerous stories in ancient Greek religions of mortals resurrecting from the dead and being transformed into deities: Asclepius, Achilles, and Hercules. Then we have Adonis who, like Jesus, was born of a virgin, died and was resurrected. And, some scholars claim that Dionysus had a miraculous birth, a mortal mother, a god for a father, as well as a death and resurrection.
These are just a few examples to make my point which is that the concept of death and resurrection was not unheard of in ancient times. Actually, it’s not what made Jesus special. What truly makes him special, what should motivate us to follow his example and teaching is just that… his example and teachings!
It is clear that Jesus had something amazing. He had a relationship with God that was so close, and so intense that he lived his life by the power of his relationship to pure, unconditional Love.
Seriously, do we have a grip on the enormity of Jesus’ understanding, closeness and conviction of God that enabled him to do what he did? When he could have had a nice, normal life, instead he chose to live in poverty to share his God of love, equality, non-violence and justice. He spoke out publicly against the powers of Rome and the powers of the Jewish religion, risking his life to share a dream… a dream of a world where people ate together; a dream of a world that did not separate one person from another based on gender, status, age, ability; a dream where people followed the “spirit of the law” (which was love) instead of the “letter of the law.” And he never gave up that dream, that hope, that ministry, that passion, that mission. No matter how hard it got, no matter how dangerous it became, he believed so deeply in empowering the people to love themselves, to love God and to love others that he wouldn’t… couldn’t give up. And so he loved until the end, extending his forgiveness and his love even to those who condemned him. Then they killed him with a horrible method of execution: crucifixion on a cross of wood.
We have to look at him in wonder and ask (in the words of Michael Morwood), “Why, Jesus, do you believe? How can you believe in a good and loving God when life does this to you?”
I want that. I want what Jesus had. I want to believe to the very core of my being that I’m loved and loveable. I want to know that I have the essence of the Divine in me. I want to live out of that all the time. I want the peace and the serenity; I want the boldness and the chutzpah that kind of faith provided Jesus.
I get closer, one baby step at a time, to where Jesus was, but I’m still completely in awe. I still want the kind of faith he had. And his faith had nothing to do with whether he was resurrected or not. His faith was based in his experience of the Divine. That is available to all of us!
Philip Gulley, in his book “The Evolution of Faith,” asks the question, “Who was Jesus?” And then answers with this:
“One whose awareness of the Divine Presence within him was so keen, and his response to the Divine Presence so full, that he was empowered to live and love so powerfully that those who encountered him were often made whole themselves and more fully equipped to say yes to that same Divine presence that was also in them. We can be like that Jesus. We can be like him when we say yes to the Divine Presence that is also in us, as thoroughly as we are able. As we do that, our lives and the lives of others, will be transformed.”
That is what Easter is about… saying “yes” to the Divine presence IN EACH OF US so that we might be transformed. So that we might be renewed and refreshed, that we might be empowered, that we might know compassion, that we might be able to look at the messes in our lives and say, “Okay, Jesus, you held onto God in the midst of the mess in your life… I will hang onto that same faith that you held onto and from which nothing could shake you.”
I know I’m not supposed to covet, but I want what Jesus had.