The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the crowning event in the year for Christians around the world. Yet, it’s largely misunderstood by its Christian adherents and nonbelievers alike. Many Christians conceive of the Resurrection of Jesus in only vague terms, often associating it with Easter niceties such as the Easter Bunny, Easter Eggs and Butterflies. Nonbelievers believe the Resurrection story is a fairy tale made up by first century male leaders of the Church, so they could wield power over its members. In fact, many Christians don’t believe in the actual Resurrection of Jesus. It’s too embarrassing to believe in such a thing in today’s modern, scientific and enlightened culture. Smart people don’t believe in such things. But they do believe in post-Resurrection ‘experiences’ that are often summarized by vague metaphors such as ‘rebirth’, ‘starting over’, or ‘hope’. The historicity of the Resurrection no longer matters.
So, what do we make of this? Let’s turn to the Resurrection stories in the Gospels to see what they say. First, what do they say about the historical aspect of the Resurrection? If you expect to find historical proof for the ‘actual’ Resurrection of Jesus, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Yes, you have an empty tomb. But, there is no description of Jesus rising from the dead. The empty tomb may point to a Resurrected Jesus, but it may not! In John’s description of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene, when she first came upon the empty tomb, believed robbers had stolen the body of Jesus (Jn. 20.2). The Gospels do tell us the Resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary, the disciples and many others. But, at first, nobody recognizes Him. Mary thinks he’s a gardener (Jn. 20.15). Two of Jesus’ disciples, even though they walked a considerable distance with him on a road and shared a meal with them, had no clue who He was (Lk. 24.13ff.).
The point I’m trying to make here is the Resurrection cannot be investigated and discovered in strictly historical, objective terms as we would do in our research about WWII. The reason we can’t is because the Resurrection of Jesus is a trans-historical event. That is to say, the Resurrection is only recognized as an historical event (and can only continue to be recognized as so in our time), when Jesus reveals Himself to us as the risen Lord. That’s why typical headlines in newspapers and magazines that you find leading up to Easter every year such as ‘Finding the Real Jesus’, or ‘Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead’ are plain silly. They are silly because the Resurrected Jesus cannot be put into our historical box and discovered on our own terms as if He was some archeological artifact we’ve discover in Egypt. Jesus is not an historical artefact, but Lord of the universe. Just as the resurrection of Jesus was a divine act of God, so too does our encounter with Him require another divine act. Just as Jesus had to reveal Himself to Mary and his disciples to see He had indeed risen from the dead, so too now does Jesus need to reveal Himself to us to see the Gospel stories of his resurrection are true.
Second, the Resurrection of Jesus is a trans-historical event insofar as Jesus reveals ‘Himself’. We do not encounter a ‘what’ in the Resurrection of Jesus as if it is just a ‘fact of information’ that we can do as we wish with. We encounter a ‘who’, the person of the Risen Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christian faith is belief in the reality that the resurrected Jesus is present to us. We do not worship the historical fact the Resurrection took place (although we accept it did take place). We worship a person, the resurrected Jesus. Therefore, what we seek every time we come to Church and worship, hear God’s Word, in our prayers and when we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion is ‘Him’!
Third, the Resurrected Jesus who reveals Himself to us is the same Jesus who died on a Cross for our sins. When He first appeared to Thomas, and the other doubting apostles, Jesus specifically points them to the wounds he incurred in his death (Jn. 20.27). And those wounds remind us that our past – a life of disobedience, sin and fear of death – has now been condemned in Him so that its power over us is over. When the Resurrected Jesus encounters us, He does so with his commanding grace. That is to say, the only response to his presence in our lives is accepting that we are forgiven, that the power of sin and death over us is no more, and that a new light has dawned in our lives, so we can live by his grace a new life in Him. Therefore, a true encounter with the resurrected Jesus changes our lives forever.
Fourth, since the Resurrection of Jesus is a bodily one, so will our resurrection. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples to touch him as He showed them his hands and feet (Lk. 24.39-40). He did this to show them and us that we too will one day be raised to be with Him bodily. Unlike any other religion, the hope Christianity offers us is an incredibly concrete one. The bodily resurrection shows us that one day the hardships, deceases, suffering we suffer today bodily and mentally will one day be no more. The lame will dance, the blind will see, the depressed will be joyful, and the hungry and thirsty will no longer hunger and thirst. Your body, my body and this whole world will one day be redeemed and made new.
Fifth, the Resurrection of Jesus is not just a future hope, but also a present and powerful reality. We live in times between where we came from when we were under the power of sin and death and the time in our resurrection when that power will no longer have any sway over us. In this in-between time, the Resurrected Jesus encounters us by the power of His Holy Spirit, such as in the Lord’s Supper, to give us a taste of what it will be like to be one day bodily with Jesus. Jesus comes to us for a reason, yes to give us hope, but also to begin transforming us into what we will fully be one day. We may experience that transformation in sudden bursts. But, most often it happens in more subtle ways over a long period of time – in bible studies, as we pray, when coming across a particular bible verse, when counselled by a dear friend, something said in a sermon, or while reading C.S. Lewis.
Lastly, the Resurrection of Jesus is God’s supreme YES to us. Insofar as the heavenly Father has affirmed Jesus as His Beloved Son in His Resurrection, we too are affirmed to be His sons and daughters. All the glory and honour the Father has bestowed on His Son is likewise bestowed on you and me. That is what we celebrate every Sunday at the Lord’s Table. There we anticipate the marriage fest of the lamb. We can receive the body and blood of the crucified Jesus because now in his Resurrection we’ve been invited to God’s table where we will one day experience our heavenly Father’s eternal delight in us.