Here is my column in today’s Greenville News. We may call ourselves many things, and think many things about Jesus. But what we cannot do is deny his resurrection and call ourselves Christians.
Easter is here. And in the church, on Easter morning, on resurrection Sunday, we say to one another ‘He is Risen,’ and respond ‘He is Risen Indeed.’ It is what we have done for thousands of years in churches that believe the Gospel.
For all those years the church has taught that while Jesus lived on earth, he taught a message of love and peace. That he called for compassion and kindness to the sick, the poor and weak; to ‘orphans and widows in their distress.’ That he healed and fed and lived and loved and ate and drank and preached and taught his disciples to continue his ministry.
These descriptions of the man are not controversial. Nobody much minds that we believe them. The historical evidence for his life on earth is powerful. It’s a rare scholar who disputes it. And even skeptics who consider him fictional can’t help but like the story of Jesus because he was kind and good. Who doesn’t like kind and good? Accepting and patient? They, too, long for the people of the world to act the way the Nazarene did; even if he didn’t really live.
But then comes Easter. The uncomfortable events of Easter are summarized in the Apostles’ Creed as follows; ‘He suffered under Pontius Pilate. He was crucified, dead and buried. The third day he arose from the dead.’ It goes on: ‘He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.’ The nice guy died; we get that. It happens all the time. But he didn’t stay dead? That’s uncomfortable.
This is where many who call themselves Christian are failing and falling. This is where those who co-opt Jesus for political or cultural advantage have to avert their eyes and mutter in some embarrassment about the power of myth or about how it was all metaphor.
They talk of mass hysteria or well-concealed conspiracy. People, after all, don’t rise up from the dead unless as the Miracle Max says in the Princess Bride, ‘your friend is only mostly dead…mostly dead is slightly alive!’ But every indication from the eyewitnesses suggest our friend Jesus was all dead.
Jesus, kind man, wise teacher, lover of the poor and broken, healer of the sick. Lowly Jesus, killed by politicians and religious folks. And there’s an end of it. Next messiah please? We can’t expect proper modern people to accept all that miraculous claptrap. However, it’s OK to be like Jesus otherwise.
But on that Sunday, we say He is Risen. We who really believe aren’t embarrassed by Him. We love him for his goodness, emulate him for his kindness, follow him for his teachings …but worship him for his deity. And many have worshipped him to their own doom and glory as martyrs, so convinced they were. And are. The martyrdoms continue apace all around the world, where believers can really sympathize with beatings and death.
We who believe still proclaim his power over sin and death. We believe that he was in fact God incarnate; Creator as creation. Judge as redeemer.
We really believe in his grace and his transformation of our fallen lives. We call him Father and Savior and King and we scan the skies, knowing He will come back to us. As the angels said to his disciples: ‘Why do you stand there looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
It is possible to think many things about the man. And that is well. We are a secular society not a theocracy and God forbid we should legislate what others have to believe.
But here is a hard, unyielding truth. Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate, died to redeem the world from sin and death, and was resurrected in triumph. This is foundational.
If, this Easter, one can say ‘He is Risen Indeed’ and can believe that and take joy in it, then that person may call himself Christian.
But if he or she cannot; if they call it ludicrous or mythical, unimportant or unessential; if they say he was nice, safe and friendly but long dead and powerless, then they may be moral and kind and good. They may love the poor and the sick. But they cannot call themselves Christian.
For on Easter, and every Easter, He is Risen.