Each of us has to make a bet on whether the Resurrection actually happened the way the church claims, as celebrated by billions this morning. What we’re betting is our lives, and the way we live them.
In essence, the church asks us to go “all in” on the proposition that Jesus was actually raised bodily from the dead. That bet has always been way too rich for my blood; I think there are more plausible explanations for the fact that Jesus’ followers found ‘his’ tomb to be empty on the morning after the Sabbath, and that later on some of those followers decided that they had encountered him — as recorded in questionable stories written down decades later in a different language.
Nor is it persuasive, at least to me, that some of Jesus’ friends and their later colleagues, by no means all of them, claimed —
- that Jesus had been the long-awaited Anointed One;
- that he was the ’Lord,’ who Any Day Now would return from heaven to make everything right — which didn’t happen, of course;
- that he was (so they said eventually) the Creator of the universe in the flesh.
In my judgment — and ultimately each of us has to make our own judgment about this bet — these claims are grounded, at best, in a misunderstanding that took on a life of its own; and at worst, in wishful thinking aggravated by a you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us obstinacy.
But that’s not the end of the inquiry. The Resurrection misunderstanding catalyzed both a belief system and a social organization. For nearly two millennia, that belief system and that organization have provided inspiration and assistance to billions of people in helping with the continuing creation of the universe.
Not all of that assistance and inspiration have been positive by any means. But we do seem to do our best work in that area when we try to follow the Summary of the Law that was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. The Summary’s simple rules of thumb seem to capture something fundamental about the universe. Their utility gives us plenty of reason to try to follow Jesus simply because of what he taught, and because of his extreme faithfulness to what he saw as his call from the Creator.
(Although extreme faithfulness is not necessarily a good thing always, as seen in the example provided by Muslim suicide bombers.)
if we were so inclined, we could conjecture that somehow, directly or indirectly, the hand of God might have been at work back then — just not quite in the exact way the church claims.
So while, in all likelihood, the Resurrection didn’t happen the way the church says, that doesn’t mean we should belittle the Resurrection claim as false.
Instead, we should commemorate what likely did happen on that first Easter and in its aftermath. We can celebrate, with gratitude but also with open eyes, the immeasurable (if not unalloyed) good that has evolved from it.
* * *