Dear disciples of Jesus, soon our greeting will be “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
This Lenten season has been one filled with grief, dealing with terminally ill pastors, their families and treasured friends. Emotional exhaustion is far more profound than any physical exertion, far beyond running a marathon. In writing the most difficult funeral sermon of my ministry at the death of a dear friend of nearly 30 years, I was reminded and struggled with how easy it is to speak of the resurrection as “future hope,” but not “current reality.”
There are some who want to argue as to whether the resurrection of Jesus is “a myth” or an “historical event.” Unfortunately, I have listened to Easter preaching that simply tries to prove that the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are historically accurate, believing that Christian apologetics, defending the faith, is sufficient to transform the lives of those who hear our well-reasoned thoughts.
Even worse is the proclamation of Easter’s relevance as some distant future hope with implications only for the end of life, as if it is a “fire insurance policy.”
We sing our “alleluias” because Jesus has solved the problem of our sin and guilt, and now nothing can keep us out of Heaven. We can focus on the practical nature of the resurrection that meets our needs or the supernatural and miraculous nature of the resurrection that seems to have little to do with our existence. Preaching in either direction is not helpful in the mission of making disciples.
I commend to you a third option, the resurrection of Jesus Christ as our current reality. Jesus expresses
that current reality in the profound “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life that came down from heaven. He is the light of the world and whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. He is the vine and we are the branches. He is the door to his kingdom, the Good Shepherd. He is the way, the truth and the life. In every way Jesus was teaching his disciples about his nature that not only entered the world but entered their lives, transforming their worldview, their identity and their existence.
The most profound “I am” statement Jesus makes is in the context of the raising of Lazarus. You remember the story from the 11th chapter of John. Lazarus had died. Mary and Martha were grieving. Martha confronts Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus responded, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha tells Jesus that she believes in the resurrection on the last day as a final and distant hope.
Notice that Jesus is not content to leave her with such an understanding, but proclaims to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Jesus even demands a response from Martha, “Do you believe this?” Martha responds with a profound confession of faith. “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
In the same way that the Eucharist is not simply a memorial retelling a story about Jesus, but Jesus’ true presence in the bread and wine of Communion, so we must also confess that Easter is not simply the retelling of a story about Jesus, but that he is the resurrection. It is just as much current reality as it is promise and our future. Through faith in Jesus the same kind of eternal life that flows through him flows through us. Through faith in Jesus we are already living our eternal life because our life is in him.
In Athens, Paul bears witness to Christ as their “unknown God” who is not far away but a current reality. He is the one in whom “we live and move and have our being.” The eternal life of which Jesus speaks is not knowledge about God but an intimately interactive relationship with him. It is life in Jesus now!
Jesus’ words to his disciples to prepare them for his death and resurrection inform our Easter proclamation. Jesus said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
In his commentary on John 14:20, Martin Luther writes,
We are in Christ and Christ is in us. The first truth points upward; the second points downward. We must first be in him with all our being — with our sin and weakness and even with death. We know that in God’s eyes we are freed, redeemed and saved from these things through Christ. Then we must swing above and beyond ourselves in Christ. Yes, we must be totally one with Christ and his people. … Consequently, sin, death, the devil and our struggles with conscience disappear.
We can then say, “I am not sure about death or hell. If there is death, let it consume my Lord Christ first. If there is hell, let it devour my Savior. If sin, the law or my conscience condemns me, let it accuse the Son of God. If that happens, then let me be condemned, consumed and devoured with my Lord.”
But because the Father and Christ live, I also will live. Because Christ remains undefeated by sin and death, I also will remain undefeated. For I know that Christ is in the Father; therefore, I also am in Christ.
This is how we soar above and beyond ourselves to Christ. Christ comes down to us from above. If we are in Christ, then Christ is in us. We have received him and crept into him by faith. We have left sin, death and the devil behind. So, Jesus shows himself to us and says, “Go preach, comfort and baptize. Serve your neighbor. Be obedient and patient. I will be in you and I will do all this through you. Whatever you do will be accomplished by me. Be happy. Be bold and courageous. Remain in me, then I will certainly remain in you.’”
This is the bold and profound Easter proclamation that Jesus is the eternal life and that life in him is our eternal existence. Easter is our current reality. That reality has everything to do with our daily life as his disciples.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!