This Sunday I made sure to include our annual Easter Call to Worship for our liturgical service. The leader will say, "Christ is risen," and the congregation will respond with, "He is risen indeed." We do that a few times for emphasis. Sometimes people will really get into it.
Once, I started off on Easter Sunday by getting the congregation worked up a bit by saying "Christ is Risen!" over and over again. By the time I realized it was time to quit, some of the folks in the crowd were very nearly shouting "HE IS RISEN INDEED" like we were at summer camp assembly or something.
It was scary. Cool, but scary.
I wonder, if we said "Christ is risen!" enough times... would we actually believe it?
At the moment I am writing this, I sort of feel like running out into the street and shouting it a few times myself until I feel a little more sure. It's been a long, slow slog through this season of Lent, man.
But seriously, how do we know that Jesus is risen?
Because the Bible tells us so?
Because it's Christian tradition?
Because the Church teaches it?
Because pastors proclaim it from the pulpit?
These are all really important things. I am not trying to diminish them by any means. So it's with all due respect that I say, "Is that everything?"
To which someone I am sure will reply, "Isn't that enough? You have Scripture. You have Tradition. You have the witness of the Church. You have the proclamation of the Gospel by learned people... What more do you want?" And then they will say something sort of damning and harsh... "Where's your faith?"
And others will reply, "Exactly! That's what I've been saying for years. There isn't any real proof that any of this true. It's just a story that makes people feel better. It is all based on faith, but faith is blind and ignorant and static."
I found this awesome quote about faith from Will Willimon:
"Faith is our breathless attempt to keep up with the redemptive activity of God."Faith isn't blind, static belief. Faith is chasing after something that you know you can't catch, but you never want to stop running after it. Faith is seeing the evidence of things that can't be seen. Faith is feeling like you can hold on to hope with your bare hands. I have no idea what God is doing or where God is going. But I know where God has been, and by faith I keep tracking God into the wilderness, to the mountaintop and into the valley. The signs of the event of God (because God is an event more than anything else) are unmistakable. And the event of the resurrection of Jesus is permeated with God's redemptive activity for all of Creation.
Jesus started his ministry off by saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" The word he used was metanoia, which does mean repentance, but more literally it means "embracing thoughts beyond our present limitations or thought patterns."
Maybe when we finally get what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ it's a little like embracing the impossible--experiencing first hand the unknowable---feeling what cannot be described---and holding on to what cannot be contained. In the end, all we can do is say to God what so many people in the Bible said before us, "I believe... help my unbelief!"
Look at the picture at the top of this page. I love it, by the way. There is this cracked expanse of desert and through that dead, crumbling ground there is this flower bursting through. It's a defiant flower.
It doesn't make any sense, does it? How could the flower grow there? Yet there it is. The evidence of redemption is right in front of you. That flower is an event--a defiant event that is basically giving Death the middle finger.
True, holy and perfect Defiance is only possible when you realize that whatever you are facing has no power over you.
There is this story in the book of Acts where the Apostle Peter proclaims to a man named Cornelius all that he and the other disciples had experienced with Christ. Cornelius has heard about Jesus and he is inclined to become a believer, but he's all theory and no practice at first.
Peter reckons that Cornelius needs a tour guide through the crazy wreckage left in the wake of Resurrection's event.
He tells Cornelius, "You know about Jesus. You know some of the things he said. You know some of the things he did. You know about Jesus, but you don't really know Jesus."
There is this Greek word that Peter uses here "oidate" which comes from a Greek verb that means "to envision mentally." The word that Peter doesn't use is the one that is inferred later on in his speech: "ginosko" which means "to experience, to feel deep down." It literally means, "to feel it in your gut."
Peter felt the Resurrection in his gut. In fact, he was living proof of the Resurrection. The fact that he was standing in front of Cornelius telling him about Jesus was a testament to his own deep down faith event. Scholars believe that there was much more to Peter's speech, and that the author of Acts only included a portion of it.
I wonder if the part that Peter left out was the story of the night he stood by the fire outside the Temple and swore three times that he didn't know Jesus. And how days later, the resurrected Jesus told him three times to feed his sheep if Peter loved him. And how after that he stood in front of the same religious leaders who had condemned Jesus to die and told them they had tried to kill the Messiah, but God had intervened and raised him. And how even though he was warned he refused to be quiet about it because he felt it in his gut so deeply that it was part of him.
On Sunday, I think I will conclude my rambling mess of a sermon (at this point) with these sort of applicable things. My hope is that it will help put a bow on this idea that we know Jesus is risen not just through head knowledge, but by experiencing the event of resurrection in our own lives. I thought I would use Peter's embodiment of the Resurrection to illuminate it...
The Resurrection that Peter embodied to Cornelius was accessible. It was Good News for everyone. It wasn't about an angry God needing pacification--it was about a loving God wanting reconciliation, and it didn't matter who you were or where you came from.
The Resurrection that Peter embodied was Good News that was experienced. Peter was able to say that Jesus is Lord because he experienced him as Lord. He saw where he had been. He witnessed the event of God. He wanted to breathlessly chase after Jesus wherever he led without thinking of the cost. Such radical devotion doesn't come from head knowledge alone.
The Resurrection that Peter embodied was transformational. The Resurrection is not a story of endings, but a story of beginnings. Peter discovered unbelievable new areas of Lordship over his life. He discovered that all of the ways he had separated himself from Gentiles who he considered unclean was not part of God's plan for his life. He would have never seen that coming.
The Resurrection Peter embodied was Good News that needed to be shared. Peter was driven by these questions: "What is God doing?" and "Where is God going?" This isn't about Church or Religion. It's about God. When we share the Resurrection event in our own lives, we aren't sharing the church's programs, we are sharing God's redemptive actions in us.
I have experienced the Resurrection event, and it transformed me forever. I can speak of the risen Jesus because I know what it means to be redeemed, to be raised from the dead. There was a time in my life when I had lost hope. I had gone as far as I could go on my own steam, and was neck deep in addictions, depression, destructive relationships a failed marriage and the constant reminders of the way that I had failed to live up to expectations and my potential.
I look at my family sometimes on Sunday mornings... and I am reminded of the Risen Jesus I have experienced for myself. I see my beautiful wife, who God used to save me when I was drowning and whose love shows me God's grace, passion, mercy and hope every day I spend with her. I see my handsome and wonderful sons, both of whom we were told would not be possible--including the little baby yet to be born, but who is making himself known through my wife's "baby bump."
I know Jesus is risen. I feel it in every breath I take, every moment I spend with a family I once believed I would never have, never deserve.
Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed.
Jesus is risen.