Occasionally I am asked by someone who is not a Christian, “You don’t really believe in all that resurrection stuff do you?” I have learned not to just answer this question immediately, but instead to spend some time learning a little bit more about what the person is really asking me. More often than not, when pressed to expand, the person will say something like this to me, “We all know that it is scientifically impossible for a dead person to come back to life. You seem to be a smart person. How can you swallow whole the story that Jesus came back to life? Clearly the story was all made up or someone, probably one of his followers, stole the body.”
My response usually goes something like this: I don’t actually spend a lot of time or any time at all thinking about what happened to Jesus’ body. I don’t really care too much about that. What does seem to be historical fact, however, was that some of the people who followed Jesus had a very real experience of him in the present after he died. Something happened that changed the lives of his followers forever. I don’t think people who had made up a story would be willing to give their lives for the sake of a lie. Most of Jesus’ first followers were killed for spreading the word of what they had experienced. And in the end, I don’t really care what exactly happened, for I will never really know, and it is not important for my faith.
It is clear to me that something happened. And for me, Easter is important because it is God’s declarative statement that death, evil, and the powers of this world do not have the final word. God has the final word. Love has the final word. Justice has the final word. Peace has the final word. God’s kingdom has the final word.
If you look at Jesus’ life and ministry, you see a very passionate man. He gave everything he had, literally, to the way of life that he believed in. And what he believed in was the Kingdom of God, not the kingdoms of this world. Jesus believed with every fiber of his being that what God intends for His creation is that everyone have enough. God intends that no one be hungry. God intends that no one be an outcast. God intends that everyone should have adequate shelter and clothing. God intends that peace be the dominate force on earth. God intends for the sick to be healed and those in mourning be comforted. God intends for the prisoner to be released. God intends for us to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Humans create a world of injustice and violence, and God’s intention for humans is to uncreate this world, that a world of justice and peace might reign. And Jesus lived and breathed this world of justice and peace with every step he took, every word he spoke, and every action he took.
This is why Jesus was nailed to that cross. He was nailed to the cross because he openly criticized the world that those in power had created. They did not kill Jesus because they were unwittingly part of God’s plan of salvation—because God needed a sinless sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world. Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the world, but because of the sins of the world. They killed him because he was pointing out what they were doing wrong, and he was attracting a following. They killed him because he was showing and teaching people about another kind of power—the power of love, the power of forgiveness, the power of giving, the power of acceptance, the power of peace. He was not a physical threat to them. He never once matched their violence with violence. Yet he was a threat all the same, and they killed him for that.
Easter then is God’s “yes” to Jesus and God’s “no” to the powers that killed him. Easter is a “yes” to Jesus’ way of living and a “no” to the world’s way of living. Easter was not a message to us that everything will be alright after we die. I’m not saying this isn’t true, but this isn’t the main message of Easter. Easter is a message to the world that love wins, good triumphs, the Kingdom of God is more powerful than any kingdom of this world and it is a message of hope to those of us struggling to follow Jesus’ example as we live our own lives.
For so long we have been taught that Good Friday and Easter are about Jesus dying to pay for our sins. I wonder how we might live our lives differently if we were to see Good Friday as coming about because those in power felt threatened by Jesus and his message. I wonder how we might live our lives differently if we were to see Easter not as a sign of future hope, but instead a sign that love is the true power right here and right now. I wonder how differently we would live our lives if we understood that God wants peace, justice, and love for all of humanity today and not only after we have died.
May each and every one of us today, as we live in a world full of hunger, full of homelessness, full of violence, full of hate, full of injustice, and full of the powerful lording it over the powerless, be filled with the hope that is Easter that we too may say “yes” to God and God’s kingdom and “no” to all that is not from God. That we say as the woman at the empty tomb said, “we have seen the Lord. Amen.