Today’s post comes from our friendly neighbourhood campus minister, Terrel Joseph
Easter is the commemoration of Jesus’ rising from the dead! After 2000 years of Christianity, when most people hear this statement they don’t usually bat an eye. They often say something like, “for sure, Christianity is about the death and resurrection of Jesus, that is common knowledge”, just like Christmas is about a good tempered fat man in a red suit who breaks into peoples homes to leave gifts for their children, and St Patrick’s day is about little green leprechauns hording pots of gold at the end of the rainbow (by the way optical physics has proven that there isn’t an end to rainbows because rainbows are actually perfect circles. They only appear to have ends because of the horizon of the planet). People often treat the resurrection like a myth or folk story, like the recently released movie adaptation of Cinderella. Lot’s of people either like or dislike Cinderella because of the values it teaches children. But the resurrection story is very different from fairy tales like Cinderella. The writers of the New Testament were not telling us a fairy tale that inspired them to be better people, nor were they telling us an abstract myth that revealed some general truths about the world, that you can either like or dislike as you would a fairy tale. Rather, the New Testament authors were telling us about a real historical event that so moved them, that they felt compelled to travel to the ends of the world to proclaim this message. The first Christians wrote about a reality so incredible that they were willing to go to their deaths to defend it this claim.
Ok, well isn’t it true that lots of crazy people are willing to die for silly reasons? Some scholars have tried to argue that the Apostles and early disciples of Jesus must have just been crazy. This is plausible, but then it implies that tens of thousands of disciples of Jesus in the first couple centuries of Christianity were all crazy, and that all modern day Christians have been deceived by a 2000 year old tall tale. Alternatively, the constant tradition of the Christian community from the first Christians to this day is that those first martyrs for Jesus gave their lives not because they were radical extremes deceived by crazy people but because Jesus really did rise from the dead.
So were the first Christians all crazy or did Jesus really rise from the dead? The New Testament scolar N.T. Wright observed that it is practically impossible to explain the emergence of Christianity as a messianic movement apart from the resurrection. The first Christians all proclaimed that Jesus was the long awaited messiah of Israel, who was supposed to deal with the enemies of Israel, restore them to power, and rein as the Lord of the nations. However, there could be no clearer sign that someone was not the messiah, then that person being put to death by the enemies of Israel, or in this case, Jesus being crucified by the Romans. Yet, the first Christians, who were all Jews and very familiar with the prophesy of the messiah, all proclaimed that Jesus was the messiah. This only makes sense if Jesus really was raised from the dead.
Unlike myths and fairy tales, the events in the New Testament are real events grounded in a very particular time and place in human history. So the gospels can’t be treated like a fairy tale that has some good morals and some bad ones. The fact is, either Jesus was who he claimed to be, or he was a very bad person. Jesus either rose from the dead or he didn’t. It’s not a myth or fairy tale, it either happened or didn’t. But who then did Jesus claim to be? Lots of people today say that they don’t believe that he was God, but that he was definitely a good moral teacher, and as with any other moral teacher in human history, they freely pick and choose which ones of his teachings to believe, and which events of his life to take seriously. This is a nice idea but it doesn’t fit at all with what the gospels writers have witnessed about who Jesus was. Throughout the gospels Jesus consistently claimed to be a lot more then just a moral teacher. Jesus said and did things that could only make sense if he was also divine and these claims and actions are primarily what eventually lead to his execution. The religious and political leaders of first century Israel certainly didn’t think he was claiming to simply be a nice moral teacher, and neither does the Catholic Church today.
So if Jesus wasn’t just a nice moral teacher, but was God in human flesh, what does that mean for Christianity? It means, that Christianity isn’t primarily about being a nice moral person, and then afterwards what specific doctrines you believe that’s more of a personal decision. This is an attitude that a lot of people have today, that all that matters finally is that you are a good person, and then what you believe is a secondary matter. The problem is that this attitude is not at all consistent with the Gospel. The Gospel is that, Jesus really did died for our sins on the cross and rose from the dead, meaning that God’s love is more powerful that anything in the world, even death itself. This is how St Paul could say in his letter to the Church in Rome,
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39).
How does Paul know this? He knows this for certain because we killed God! We through all of the world’s negativity and violence at God, but God still returned in forgiving love, proving that the divine mercy of God is more powerful then anything in the world. Christianity then is primarily about proclaiming the still earth shattering truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead and inviting those who hear this gospel to repent, and change. The original Greek for repent is ‘metanoia’, which literally translated means beyond-mind. Because of the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus, everything we once knew about the world has changed so we need to go beyond the mind we have, we need to change our mind, change our attitude, change the way we live our lives because of this truth. One of these new realities that has changed because of the resurrection of Jesus is the meaning of hope. As Christians we are not superstitions optimists that naively think everything will work out “happily ever after” like in Cinderella. Rather as Christians we can hope in a rational way because through the death and resurrection of Jesus we know for certain that Gods love can turn the suffering and death of one man into the source of eternal life for all. God’s love is more powerful then death itself. This doesn’t explain the problem of suffering and evil in the world, but it does allow us to address suffering in a meaningful way.
Being a Christian is a lot more then just being a good person. Because frankly, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, and peoples of all beliefs can all in principle be good moral people. The most compelling reason to be a Christian isn’t that we are the nicest or most moral people, even if Christian ethics does indeed produce nice moral people. The most compelling reason to be a Christian is because Jesus really did die for you on the cross, and he really did rise from the dead to prove that God’s love for us is more powerful then any of the evil in the world, and that in choosing to place Jesus at the center of our lives, and in choosing to repent and be baptised we too can gradually learn how to participate in God’s manner of loving! In the 2nd century St Irenaeus of Lyon observed that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive”. And we become most fully alive when we dedicate our lives to learning more and more everyday how to love each other the way God loves! Because love is the source of human happiness! And God’s love is more powerful then death!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!