The Resurrection of Our Lord
April 21, 2019
So often historical things happen, and people don’t truly understand the significance and the implications until well after the fact. Sometimes, these events aren’t even well-known to the public.
Take, for instance, the attempted assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933. "Joe" Zangara, an Italian immigrant, and an anarchist, fired his handgun at Roosevelt, who was in Miami giving a speech. But Zangara was only 5 feet tall, and needed to stand on a wobbly metal folding chair to get a good look over the crowd and aim at his target. His first shot missed, and as he was then grabbed by the crowd he got off four more wild shots. But that first shot instead hit another target – Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago at the time – who later died from his wounds.
Had Zangara been a little more accurate, or perhaps a bit taller, and killed his intended target Roosevelt, it’s hard to imagine how history would have been different. Had Roosevelt been assassinated, his conservative Texas running mate, John Nance Garner, would most likely have come to power. "The New Deal, the move toward internationalism — these would never have happened," says one historian, "It would have changed the history of the world in the 20th century. I don't think the Kennedy assassination changed things as much as Roosevelt's would have."
We look back, today, on a much more important event that is far more well-known and changed far more of the course of history. It is also a life-and-death story, or rather a death-and-life story. We mark, of course, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is just as real and historical as any other thing that has truly happened. The body of Jesus was never found. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses to the risen Christ. And his followers spread the news of it to the corners of the earth, at great personal cost and often in the face of their own persecution and death. People don’t become martyrs for a lie. Large groups of people don’t share hallucinations. The resurrection really happened! Christ is truly alive, truly rose from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. Christ is risen!
And oh how the world would be different today if Christ had not been raised! No Christian Church with all of the blessings that it has brought through the ages – advances in science, social improvements like the abolition of slavery, the establishment of hospitals and schools, much, maybe even most, of the fabric of Western Civiliation owes its existence to the Christian church and its people. But more than that. It’s not just history on the macro-level. It matters to each of us, individually. It’s quite personal.
St. Paul interprets the resurrection in his letter to the Corinthians, “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
In other words, if Jesus isn’t alive, if he didn’t rise from the dead, then:
Your faith is futile. It’s useless. We might as well burn down Notre Dame completely and all the other Christian churches. Make them something more useful. Throw away your bibles. Pastors will have to go find a job at Home Depot. We can all find something better to do on Sundays like go fishing or sleep in. If Jesus isn’t alive, none of this matters. But you are here today. At that means that on some level, it does matter to you. And whether your faith is strong or flagging, whether you are an every Sunday Christian or not so sure or committed… Jesus Christ is still alive, and the faith is not futile.
Paul goes on to say, if Christ hasn’t been raised: then you are still in your sins! See, the whole point of Jesus dying on the cross was to pay for, cover, take away your sins. All the things that you do that break the rules, offend God and hurt your neighbor. It’s a long list, friends, if we could even begin to count our sins. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, though, we’d be stuck holding that stinky bag. We wouldn’t know for sure that God forgave us, that he loves us, or that Christ’s death was good enough to wipe those sins away. But Jesus is indeed alive, and that means that everything he said was true, and every promise he made is entirely trustworthy. We don’t have to worry about God judging our sins – because Christ is risen!
And finally, Paul says, if Christ hasn’t been raised, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. There’s no hope for them. Who wants to live in a world where there’s no hope beyond the grave? That’s it, lights out, you just are no more. What a nihilistic, dead-end of despair. And yet that is where the secular world would point us, to the gaping black hole of death from which no one or nothing ever returns. Thanks be to God that’s not how it is. For us who are in Christ, we go where he goes. He conquered death. And we too will rise. Our loved ones in Christ are safe in his care, even now, and we will meet them again face to face, in the flesh, at the resurrection on the last day.
If Christ isn’t raised, if it all ends here, if this life is all there is – then Paul concludes, we are to be pitied more than all men. And quite frankly, many do find Christians to be pitiful. Or worse. For those who deny the resurrection, who don’t believe that Jesus lives, they see us as backward, deluded, brain-washed, superstitious, anti-intellectual, holier-than-thou, mind-numbed zealots who place our faith in a fairy tale. They see all this Christianity as a waste of time at best. They pity us, or they mock us, or they marginalize us as they see fit.
But reality is just the opposite. Those who are truly to be pitied are those who don’t know or can’t see or won’t believe the truth of Jesus Christ. They are without hope. Their future only leads to despair. We have a hope that does not fail, and a life even beyond death!
Paul unpacks so much of the meaning of this day for us, but on that first Easter morning, it was all so bewildering. Nobody knew what was going on. They were running here and there. There was weeping and grieving and hiding. They were confused and fearful, and yet…
The joy of this shocking realization began to hit them in various ways. The stone was rolled away, and the body was gone, and the women are “perplexed” we are told. What does it all mean? Then, even more strangeness, two men appear out of nowhere. Who are they? Angels? Their dazzling apparel testifies. And their words all the more…
“Don’t you remember his words?” His words – we should all, always remember his words. Jesus knew this would happen. He told them it would happen. He started already, way back in Luke chapter 9, the Son of Man would be crucified… and on the third day rise!
The women told the men, and the men didn’t believe it right away. They thought it was an “idle tale”. Maybe you can relate to that, too.
So often, even today, we Christians hear the words of Christ but they don’t make sense, they don’t sink in, we don’t understand them, or maybe we just don’t believe them. Maybe we heard them long ago, but we don’t consider that they are very relevant today. But then something changes – a circumstance of life, a shock to the system, or sometimes just plain old maturity, and the Holy Spirit enlightens us so we can see. “Oh, THAT’s what this was all about!” For the women, for the apostles, they all had their Easter “aha” moments.
So let the words of the angels and the words of our Lord and the account of the apostle Luke remind you, also, today, of the blessed resurrection!
Why are you seeking the living among the dead? That’s what makes no sense, after all. Let it sink in, friends, Jesus is alive! Death couldn’t hope to stop him, or even contain him. He has swallowed death up in victory. By his death he has destroyed death, and by his life he has brought life and immortality to light. He lives, he lives, he lives! Christ is risen!
And that is the best news for you, dear Christian. Because he lives, your faith is not in vain. Because he lives, your sins are no more. Because he lives, death can’t contain you either. Oh, it will seem to, for a little while. Your friends and family will cry at your funeral. But your rest in the grave will be like Christ’s – a temporary arrangement. Your resurrection is on its way. Where Christ has gone, we will follow.