Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Resurrection – the Defining Moment of the Christian Faith

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8, NIV)

What gives the Christian faith its raison d’être? What made the Christian faith what it is? Where does the Church—the gathered people of God—get its reason for existence?

Imagine with me for a moment what would have happened if the two Marys and Salome had gone early that morning to anoint the body…and the body was still there. What would have happened then? They would have dutifully applied the spices to the body, honoring in death the one who had so affected their lives. They would have gone home, experienced a time of mourning, and lived out their lives. The disciples…well, we know what Peter, James and John would have done—they would have gone fishing…and stayed fishing. Oh, they would have talked about the Nazarene who had so changed their lives, perhaps remembering some of the teaching and the more amazing moments.

“Hey, Peter, remember when he went in the temple with that whip of chords he made?! Man, people were flying every which way! Fur, money and people were jumping and bouncing everywhere! Ha,ha….”

They may have even tried to share with others what Jesus had said…but it would sound a bit hollow now. Because not only had they heard the good wisdom and the call to good works, but they had also heard promises of ‘resurrection’ and ‘return.’ In the end, they’d go back to the nets, days or nights on the Sea of Galilee…and they would have died old men and women, happy for the days they had with the Master, but somehow disappointed it had all be so short lived….

Paul would have continued his studies, risen through the ranks of the Pharisees, sat on the Sanhedrin. He might even have made ‘high priest’ at some point of his life. His life may have stayed very centered in Judea. No journeys to Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Rome, Spain….

Nothing would have been written. No Gospels, no letters to churches, no letters to community leaders. Just imagine, we would never have read or heard words such as….

Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest….

Cast all your cares on God for he cares for you….

Love is patience, kind, long-suffering….

If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive you….

Our Father, who art in heaven….

For God so loved the world….

These three remain—faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love….

None of these words would have been penned, none of them heard by the world. Jesus in the end would have been another good man, wise teacher, even miracle worker…just one of the many littered throughout history.

But something tipped the balance, something changed everything….

“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!

This changed everything! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, because he came back to life, because the tomb did not contain him, history was forever changed.

His disciples courageously scattered throughout the known world to tell the story of the One who had changed their lives…and every generation since, disciples have done the same. His words and his actions were remembered and carefully recorded. His life engaged and inspired generation after generation to carry his message of God’s Good News to all corners of the earth. His faith…his trust, his confidence, his belief in God as a loving Father changed everything for the 1st Century…and for every century after. The hope now in a life beyond death moved and moves men and women, young people and old, to embrace the faith of Jesus. The love that he taught us—a new, self-sacrificing, honoring love for God, neighbor and self—changed the world and changed us. Because of the resurrection, the life of Jesus was preserved, recorded, proclaimed…because of the resurrection, the people of this Jesus—the Church—gathered and found support in their unity…and they preserved and lived out the faith, the hope, the love they encountered in Jesus of Nazareth.

The Church today, the Christian today, finds her raison d’être in the moment, the event, the act of resurrection. As a 'resurrection people,' we now gather every Sunday (“…early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise….”) to remember and celebrate the faith, the hope, the love that we find in Jesus...the One who died on our behalf, who conquered death, who rose from the grave to offer ALL the Good News of God, relationship with God, the gift of eternal life with God, a place in the amazing, purpose-filled family of God. The resurrection…changes everything.

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