Can one not believe in the Resurrection and still be a Christian? -- I noticed a couple links to the headline questions on my Facebook feed during the week before and Holy Week. It is only natural, I suppose, for newspapers and magazines to try and increase sales or clicks whenever they can. And Easter certainly provides an opportunity for such a question to be posed. There were interesting threads and discussions about the question. One prominent one was the real need to understood what was meant by Resurrection. Was Jesus physically raised from the dead? If so, why does Mary not recognize Him immediately? Was Jesus raised metaphorically? If so, why did the Apostles and disciples, many of whom faced martyrdom, ever decide to live and die for a metaphor? And how did Paul, a chief persecutor of the Church and rising star in the Jewish religious and political authorities, even get seduced by a metaphor?
Naturally, I was excited about the question and the fact that it caused a lot of discussion. Probably somewhere around 15 - 20 of those in orbit, but not a member of, this parish, decided to use the memes to ask me some serious questions. As an Episcopal priest, I do love it when those whom we serve in Christ’s name ask reflective, serious questions. As some of you well know, some of those serious discussions or threads have been happening now for years. The question is important, though. I was somewhat amazed at the shallow answers proffered by all three sides in the answer to the first question. It was if we had divorced ourselves, as Christians, from the deep theological reflections of Easter. Luckily, we get a chance to do some serious theological reflection over the next six weeks. The editors of the lectionary, you will soon come to see, keep us grounded in Acts 2 for the Easter season. You will also notice some skipped parts, just like today, but those readings will be covered when we get to the Feast of Pentecost.
So, how important is the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to an understanding of our faith and of Christianity? Simply put, it is the central act and verification of salvation history. What do I mean by that? Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, points out to all the Jews within range of his voice in Jerusalem that knew that Jesus would be handed over and killed by those outside the torah. In other words, God knew from the beginning of time that Jesus would be betrayed by those who knew they could not kill Him into the hands of those who could. They might have thought their plotting was good. Maybe, those who had a role in this betrayal were patting themselves on the back for upholding the letter of the torah while accomplishing their goals. God, according to Peter, is so omniscient that He knew their hearts and their actions long before their birth, let alone when these events took place.
“But God raised Him up, having freed Him from death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in by its power!” To their plotting and scheming, God had an easy answer. He would overcome that death; He would overpower that death. Better still, He would use, once again, that which was meant for evil, and use it for good.
Peter reminds his audience of the prophecy of King David. “I saw the Lord always before me, for He is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken . . . for you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.” This is the same Peter who denied knowing Christ or what the guards and servants were discussing during the evening of Maundy Thursday and the early morning hours of Good Friday. That same fisherman, who could not even bring himself to testify that He knew Jesus of Nazareth, for fear of punishment, is instructing all within the sound of his voice about the importance of the Resurrection!
And he points out the obvious. David, a king and prophet whom the Lord loved, dies and was buried. We can even go to his tomb.
But it is not so with Jesus. David, speaking prophetically, knew that God would one day God would conquer death for His Holy One, the Messiah. That prophecy, in the Resurrection of Jesus, has been fulfilled in their eyes. Better yet! They are all witnesses. God has acted once and for all and demonstrated to those who would follow Him that He has power even over death. It is an amazing verification of God’s power. If Peter’s testimony is true, nothing can prevent God from fulfilling His promises to all His people. If death cannot stop Him, what can?
Friday night, the youth and I were having a bit of back and forth about this event at the Nerf War. As you know, I try to give them something upon which to think. We were here to have fun and fellowship, but that does little good if we do not remind them of their Father’s love. I stopped the battle in its tracks and pointed out the floor. There were tons of Nerf darts on the floor. Tons. I am amazed that there are none here today. But I reminded them of one promise of Psalm 91.
You will not fear the arrow that flies by day. I pointed out to them that we are in the Easer season and that Jesus’ Resurrection gives us, His disciples, a unique perspective. Arrows are still flung at us by day. Some of those present were dealing with un or underemployment for the parents and, as a consequence, struggle with questions about provision. Most admitted that had been both on the giving and receiving end of bullying. As I began to name some of their possible arrows, they filled in the details far better than I ever could. I wish my parents were together. I wish my dad spent time with me playing catch or fishing. I wish mom came to my soccer games. I wish my teacher did not hate me. My friends tease me when they find out I went to church. I wish I did not feel like a failure. I wish mom was proud of me. I wish dad cared about me. And these were spoken in a group. I can imagine there were unspoken arrows in their midst, as youth are not particularly quick to share in a group their fears and hurts.
The visual image, though, was stunning. Our floor was covered in arrows; and they were standing unharmed above them. God has promised that one day, one glorious day in the future, they and we will stand looking at life’s sorrows and hurts and fears much like they looked at those nerf darts. One day, they will lie at our feet, redeemed, and no longer able to harm us.
That is the perspective given us by the Resurrection of Jesus. Just as God knew that Jesus would be betrayed and handed over to the Romans to be crucified, He also knew He had the power to conquer death. What Jesus faced on our behalf would have been tragic, like so many of life’s arrows, were God powerless to redeem our sufferings and to forgive us our sins. To demonstrate His power to redeem us, He raised Jesus, and Peter and the others were witnesses to His Resurrection.
All of that, of course, leads us back to the question: Can we reject the Resurrection and still be Christian. The answer, brothers and sisters, is an emphatic no. The Resurrection of Jesus was the focus of salvation history and the demonstration of God’s power in our lives. It is, as Peter notes, the source of all our hope. How can we know that God can keep all His promises to us? How can we know that we will one day have a seat at the Marriage Feast? How can we know that we will one day inherit the first-born share of our Father in heaven? Because our Father cannot be thwarted by our death! Just as He raised His Son our Lord, one day, unless He returns before our own deaths, He will resurrect us!
Christians are, by definition, a soon-to-be Resurrected people. We do not yet have the perspective of having been resurrected, but He who keeps all promises has promised that we will share in His eternal kingdom! It is as good as happened in His mind. It is even more dependable than death and taxes for us. To reject the Resurrection of Jesus is not only to reject one of the tenets of our faith and the testimony of those who have come before, but it also to abandon the hope to which He calls us and offers us. If we cannot be raised like our Lord Jesus, those arrows of life regain their power to hurt us. We must waste time avoiding them and fearing their impact. They, and not the love and promise of our Father, not the grace that He offers, become the focus of our lives.
We prayed this morning in the Collect that we might show forth in our lives what we profess in our faith. Ultimately, we should be showing in our lives is a joyful hopefulness. Yes, we sometimes feel sad. Yes, we feel hurts. Yes, we sometimes mourn. But even in the midst of those volleys of arrows, you and I are a redeemed people, a soon-to-be Resurrected people! Like our youth who were hollering and hooting and laughing and squealing as they were plotting and scheming, you and I should be facing life with joy. We can face the arrows, face the onslaughts of life certain that He can redeem all things in our life, confident that life’s arrows will, in the end, hurt little more than those nerf darts. But even at the grave of a brother or sister what do we say? Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Why? Because our Lord has acted finally and overwhelmingly to free us from sin and death. Because our Lord has called us each to new life. Because our Lord has promised us a share in His inheritance as a Resurrected people. Of that, we are witnesses!