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Jeff the Baptist, vol. 1, #8

The Resurrection: But What Does It All Mean?

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Casarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they told him, "Some say John the Baptist, and others say Elijah, and still others say one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do *you* say that I am?"

Easter. Gulp! Here we are once again. Thank goodness this day comes just once a year. If I can only shut my eyes, mumble the obligatory hocus pocus creeds about Jesus being resurrected, I'll make it through this time, and then it's home to something sane like Easter dinner and those great little Easter egg hunts with the kids.

I mean, what is it with all that mumbo jumbo about Jesus being resurrected anyway? It only gets worse when someone pulls out Paul, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead?" Yep. That's my idea of religion, just like testifying in court. Thank you, Paul, that makes me feel better... No wonder people feel alienated from the whole thing.

And, yet, something always draws us back, doesn't it? Maybe you were always curious about this Christian holiday. Or, maybe you were raised in a church and Easter, for you, is a reminder of quieter times, happier times. The Easter outfits, Dad actually coming to church, too. Everybody dressed up. The altar all decked out in flowers. The music. The energy. The church jam packed full of people. Where'd they all come from? Maybe you're one of those who, no matter how else you feel about organized religion, somehow manage to make it to church on that day. You feel drawn there.

And that's when it hits. Somewhere between being happy that you made it and the expectation of a nice Easter dinner with family and friends afterward, the word Resurrection appears. What does it mean? Isn't it just mythology? It doesn't make sense at all. Or maybe, and this might be the key, we simply cannot relate to it anymore.

It's an interesting question, though, isn't it? Did the Resurrection happen?

I think it did. Let me tell you why. Despite all the differences among the four pictures painted of Jesus from the gospels, if there is one thing the writers agree on, it's the Resurrection. Somehow, in some way, days after he should have been a rotting corpse, the followers of this executed criminal of the state experienced a walking, talking Jesus, the man they knew, loved, and followed. Was he a resuscitated body, brought back from the dead? Yikes! I doubt it; they would have said so. There was something special about him, something different, something *more*.

Is that rational? Hardly. Especially not in our Age of Reason. But, then again, isn't our Age of Reason just a little too rational sometimes? Isn't it just a little too cut and dried? I delight in the story of the miraculous cure of cancer. The one that beats all the odds and the professional opinions involved. And, getting down to it, don't we all know one or two events in our lives that somehow happened even though they shouldn't have? When I was growing up, the definition of a miracle in northern Wisconsin was the Packers returning to the Superbowl.

But we miss the point about the Resurrection if we don't also talk about what it means. Maybe this is a bit post-modern of me, but I just don't buy the idea that the Resurrection happened out there somewhere in time, no matter what we choose to think about it. Instead, I think that only by interacting with the Resurrection does it take on meaning. That's why I don't believe that the story of our relationship with God ends with the New Testament. It continues. A fifth gospel? Maybe.

I think the disciples found an understanding of the Resurrection that worked for them. They thought in terms of a quickly coming reign of God and the Judaic general resurrection of the dead. But I think it's a mistake to think that explanation is going to work for us, for all time. We live in a different world. We have different expectations, different fears, different dreams.

I don't think the old "washed clean in the blood of Christ" image works too well anymore, either. To hear many an Easter sermon nowadays, one would think that we're still stuck in the feudal ages. We've dishonored our Lord, our King? the paschal lamb who died for our sins? sacrificed to atone for our sins? sinners in the hands of an angry God? Jesus makes us fit to return to the Lord? You know what I mean. It was an understanding that, I think, we needed for a while, but it just doesn't ring true anymore. Perhaps it's time to set it aside.

What meaning can we find in the Resurrection? What explanation can we find that works for us? I see a couple of things, at least. First, despite our best imaginings, despite our fondest hopes that there is some kind of existence after death, we are still left with the very real prospect that we are deluding ourselves. That when we die, we each disappear into a great void. The Resurrection provides the promise that the hope is not a delusion. How do we know, as finite beings, that when we die, we will continue to exist in some way? Because we have knowledge that one of us does.

What can we do with this promise? We can see that our existences do have meaning. What happens to us does matter. The conviction that this is all an illusion, so we might as well enjoy ourselves, even to the detriment of others, is not the only answer. There is a better one. In a word, I think the Resurrection gives us hope.

A second thing that I see in the Resurrection is that because Jesus appeared with the wounds from his execution, it seems pretty apparent that we take our stories with us. Now, this doesn't have to be a bad thing. Admittedly, the first thought that crosses my mind is that we have to take our worst mistakes with us. But with the bad comes the good. It also means that we will not lose those that we love.

Then, too, if we do take our stories with us, we'd want to make them good ones, wouldn't we? Each decision we make through the day, by the tens of thousandfold, has a say in what our stories shall be. How we treat ourselves, how we treat others, how we treat our environment, how we allow our chosen representatives to treat us and our world, are all dependent, in many ways, on what we decide. We have the choice to embrace or reject. We have the choice to love or to hate or to ignore. Whether it's how we treat the jerk in the next cubicle or how our leaders treat the citizens and leaders of Kosovo, the question is still the same: What story do we want to take with us?

Let's make it a good one. This is our challenge, to find our own explanation for the Resurrection. Something that we can believe in, something that makes sense to us. Something that does not alienate. Something that fulfills.

 

- Jeff the Baptist

 

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