The resurrection of Jesus is for most Christians the defining moment in the Christian faith. Without the resurrection Jesus would have been just a hapless victim of tyranny. His message of love, forgiveness and hope would have been dumped along with his body. His words would have been long forgotten along with his name.
But that is not what happened. Three days after his crucifixion followers of Jesus began to announce that he was alive. And while cynics and skeptics have long questioned what actually happened on that first Easter, it’s hard to question the results of the belief in what happened. In the centuries since that first announcement, followers of Jesus have multiplied exponentially.
Today Christianity is a world religion. Followers of Christ can be found in almost every corner of the world. And where there are not followers of Christ there are likely Christian missionaries trying to persuade folks to become followers of Christ.
In our own country Christianity in its many varied forms is far and away the most dominant faith. And while it may be true that there are miles of difference between a high church Anglican and a charismatic snake handler, these disparate groups are nevertheless linked together by the confession that Jesus was raised from the dead.
As a partisan in this matter I am aware of the many positive possibilities of believing such a claim. Classic Christian orthodoxy asserts that Jesus was one of us–a human being. He lived and ate and got tired and laughed and wept and died—that’s what all of us do. But with Jesus the usual course of events was interrupted. Something new was inserted into the equation. Death was defeated, and from that moment on the hope of a defeated death has helped millions of people live.
There are two pieces to this which we have not always held together as closely as we might. There’s the piece that says because Jesus died and was raised from the dead we have the promise of eternal life. Resurrection in this sense is the first fruits of a harvest of life that God has intended for us.
The other piece has less to do with the promise of eternal life than it does with the hope of a meaningful life here and now. You see, by means of resurrection God vindicated Jesus’ every word and deed. Or to say it differently, in the words and deeds of Jesus there is revealed for us a way to live.
It makes sense when we think about it. If Christians are right and Jesus is God incarnate, then not only do we see God in him, but we also see ourselves as well. In Jesus we see what a human being is supposed to look like. In fact, that’s what theologian Walter Wink believes Jesus’ use of the title “Son of Man” was all about. To call oneself a son of man was just another way of saying “I’m one of you.”
This Sunday millions of Christians will declare with the faithful from across the ages, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.” That confession takes on special significance if we hold together the idea that in his resurrection Jesus has provided both life after death, and life in the face of death. In fact, that could be our Easter prayer–that the quality of life that was vindicated by his resurrection will become the pattern of the life we live everyday.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.