“He is not here; for He has been raised…” Matthew 27:6
Writing in a recent issue of The Christian Century, Shawnthea Monroe comments that in January, we were introduced to Planet Nine. This new addition to our solar system is thought to be ten times the mass of Earth and 50 billion miles away. Scientists from the California Institute of Technology explained that, while they have not actually found the planet, they are sure that it exists - because nothing else accounts for the way objects in the outer part of the solar system move. “It must be there,” said one astronomer. “Nothing else could exert such influence.”
Just as we learn that Pluto is no longer a planet, now we’re told there is a new heavenly body to fit into our cosmology. It isn’t easy for me to give up the understandings with which I grew up, but sometimes the accepted facts must change in light of new evidence.
This is essentially the message of Easter. The women who make their way to the tomb in the predawn light think they know the facts. Luke’s Gospel tells us that they have seen it all: the crucifixion, the death, and the burial. They know who they are looking for and where to find Him. Carrying spices and ointments, they come to do what they have done many times before – clean a dead body and prepare it for burial.
Then things fall off the map. The stone has been rolled away, and the tomb is empty.
The gospel accounts of the resurrection differ in many ways, but they agree on two things: the body of Jesus is not in the tomb, and the women are told, “He is not here; He has been raised.”
Monroe says, “The resurrection is a problem for post-Enlightenment Christians. We like our faith to be tangible, practical, and most of all rational. There is no room in our cosmology for a resurrected body, because such a claim flies in the face of reason and science.”
Ever since the first century Christians have had their doubts about the resurrection. We know this because in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he insists that if Christ is not raised, then all is lost. In a time when people were suffering and dying for their faith, a Christ who was not resurrected offered no hope: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
For Paul, the resurrection is not just one part of the story. It is the reality in which the whole gospel narrative unfolds. Too much is at stake for the resurrection not to be true.
The same holds true today; a lot is at stake. Every day people put their Christian faith into action, sometimes at great personal risk. They deliver meals in dangerous neighborhoods. They visit the sick and people convicted of violent crimes. They march and protest for social justice and equal rights.
Theologian John S. Whale once said that “the Gospels don’t explain the resurrection; the resurrection explains the Gospels.” I agree. I believe in the resurrection. I believe that Jesus rose on the third day – even though I cannot prove it. We have no firsthand account of the event; no one saw Jesus when He shrugged off the linen cloth and stepped out of the tomb. No one saw it happen.
Just as no one has seen Planet Nine. But what else could exert such influence?
Only the resurrection could turn cowardly Peter into a preacher of renown, could transform Saul into the great missionary Paul. Only the resurrection could turn ordinary women and men into saints and martyrs, preachers and prophets, activists and organizers. Generation after generation, we make our way to the empty tomb and hear the words that rock our world: He is not here. He is risen.
Yours in Christ,
Tuesday, April 19 at 5:30 p.m. - Koinonia Circle will go out to eat at Olde Dutch Restaurant. ALL LADIES OF THE CHURCH ARE INVITED!