When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.”
- Mark 16:1-6
All around the world, people awakened this morning and went about their day. But today – this day – Christians everywhere celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The very heart of Christian faith is that our Lord, crucified, dead, and buried, rose from the grave a new Man – not a resuscitated Man but a resurrected Man filled with the Life and Light of God. Jesus was Himself, always the human Son of Mary and always the divine Son of God, and yet, He was Someone more, Someone different, Someone His closest friends did not recognize on first sight. It is an event in history – a story in the Bible – that has given rise to two thousand years of faith. Do you believe it really happened?
Recently while driving somewhere, I listened to an “Uncommon Knowledge” podcast hosted by Peter Robinson. The topic of the podcast caught my attention: Does God Exist? Robinson interviewed three notable scholars and authors: an historian, an international journalist, and a philosopher of science. Individually, the men were, in no particular order, a secular liberal atheist, a Christian, and an agnostic leaning toward unbelief. Although the discussion was supposed to be on the existence of God, it quickly turned to the question of whether Western civilization can survive without Christianity. There followed a civil and thought-provoking discussion about the role of Christianity in Western civilization, whether the Western culture can remain intact if separated from that which gave it birth, as well as the place of science in the shaping of the Western mind and religious sentiment (or the lack thereof). The discussion was one of the most interesting I’ve heard in some time, but even as I was listening to it, I kept thinking: But… what if it is true?
No matter how much knowledge we believe we have, if Jesus died and was resurrected, everything we know is partial and inconclusive. “Do we need God in order to have Western civilization?” is the wrong question. To ask that question is to assume that Western civilization is our priority, and we have only to decide whether God is useful for maintaining it. However, if Jesus rose from the dead and then ascended into heaven, the question becomes, “in light of heaven, is Western civilization necessary, and, if so, what should Western civilization be?” More to the point, if there is a realm where Jesus is, a place where He reigns as the Lamb of God and is worshipped, how are we to live?
As the podcast discussion wandered into what it would mean to admit that Christianity is necessary for civic order, morality, and such, the obvious dilemma of belief surfaced. One cannot make others believe something because it’s good for civic life. One of the men pointed to the sorts of things one hears from Christians – singing songs about some place no one can see and saying things about reuniting after death, and such. Then he asked rhetorically, “In what metaphysical world do you live?”
Funny you should ask…
Metaphysical systems of thought encompass and explain everything, giving human beings the necessary framework for ordering our lives and flourishing in our living. Or not. Communism, for example, is a metaphysical system of thought, but people do not flourish in that system. Even so, Christianity is not first and foremost a metaphysical system as defined by academicians. Christianity isn’t even really a religion. Christianity is the revelation of a world beyond our world, an all-encompassing place, a vibrantly alive reality that reveals the shadows, superficiality, and grubbiness of this world. Being a Christian means being born to new life in that world, the participation now in what is the authentic creation of God’s Kingdom. Christianity offers us eternal communion with the Holy Trinity in the finite days of this temporal and dying world.
The man deserves credit for recognizing that Christian ethics require beliefs that alter how we understand the totality, even though he doubted it could possibly be true, because… Christianity does alter everything we know, for Jesus Christ revealed more than we could ever have figured out on our own, more than we could possibly have guessed. His question is not rhetorical at all, for Christians do indeed live in a world that defies definitions and measurements. The single, most important event in human history, indeed, in the history of universe, is found at the heart of Christian faith: the Resurrection of Jesus. The defeat of death is the decisive claim of Christian life, and it changes the manner in which we must understand ourselves and our lives, our knowledge, and our values, as well as the meaning of human life and the nature of freedom. The Resurrection of Mary’s Son 2,000 years ago impacts literally every aspect of our daily lives today. As followers of Jesus, we are living every day – making every decision, investing every thought, meeting every person, striving toward every virtue – for the Life we experience now in part but yearn to experience fully.
The reality of the Kingdom broke into our world in the Incarnation, and the defiled and sullied creation was raised in glory when Christ rose from the dead. After ministering to His disciples and being among the faithful for forty days, Jesus ascended into heaven, from whence the Son had come.
I think we Christians have long been faced with the obstacle of familiarity. We’ve heard the account of the Resurrection for much of our lives, and the astonishing surprise and overwhelming implausibility of it are easily lost to us. Daily life keeps us occupied. Good things happen, and we call ourselves blessed. Bad things happen, and we wonder where God went. We measure God’s presence by the quality of life according to our measure. We see wars and unspeakable cruelty, and we wonder why God allows it. Then we find ourselves wondering if our civilization even needs God to survive. As time passes, we begin to accept answers offered by the anointed wise in the world, forgetting that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the wise.
The Son of God came into the world to reveal the truth to us – the truth about all things, from beginning to end. In Jesus Christ, God reveals divinity to us and bestows divinity with His Spirit. But in Jesus Christ, God also reveals humanity to us – what we are and what we can become. Because it is true, we cannot allow ourselves to forget. Every evil, every failure, every heartbreak, every sin will one day be swallowed up by life, the same life that destroyed death in Jesus Christ. To know that Christ is Risen, to pray before His throne, and to worship with the saints is to understand more about what is true and right and good than all the human knowledge combined.
As children of God, we are called to live in this generation as christs in ministry and in love. By the power of the Spirit Who dwells in us, we invest in this world what our Father has invested in us. He has given us everything He wants us to offer, and in us, the world’s despair meets hope, sorrow meets joy, hatred and apathy meet love, and death meets life.
The women carried burial spices to the tomb for anointing the Body of Jesus as dawn was stretching above the horizon. The mighty power of the Roman Empire had hammered Jesus to the Cross and the pious sanctimony of religious leaders had orchestrated Jesus’ downfall and death. The women, the disciples, all who hoped in Jesus were completely and utterly defeated. But God was not…
When powers and authorities in our world seem impervious to truth and indifferent to the havoc wreaked and the people harmed, remember that God is not defeated. When the evil one is dancing victoriously in the hearts and minds of people, remember that evil is defeated, and God is not. When arrogance and greed and lust for power strive to destroy all that is good, remember that the Resurrection is God’s gateway to indestructible life.
Do not be afraid, and do not listen to the mockers. Instead, live in the knowledge of Resurrection. Whatever may or may not happen with Western civilization, the Resurrection is the revelation of life beyond human ideas and order. One day, all that is fallen, broken, plagued by evil, and wounded in spirit will be no more as death gives way to life, and evil’s last gasping scream fades into the abyss.
Today, live as conquerors, for in Christ, that is who we are – if we believe it is true. It is, you know… true. Pray to see the gates of heaven thrown open wide, and pray to live in the heaven that has come to earth in Jesus Christ.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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