Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
I mean, for us now, more than 2000 years later, if we’re really honest with ourselves, a lot of the time it’s just a story. A really great story—fun and challenging—but ancient history all the same. We long for the stories to be as real as the person sitting next to us and at the same time are glad they’re not, because what would we do if faced with the real Jesus or the real resurrection?
We’ve been talking about this on campus—I’m a new campus minister at UC, I meet with students for meals and pastoral conversations, and I’ve started a small discipleship group where we talk over one another’s stories and theologies. Recently, we considered the question of what difference Jesus death and resurrection really makes. The conversation went something like this:
ONE, incarnation is so important—Matthew and Luke focus a lot of energy on Jesus’ birth stories, particularly that it’s miraculous; John’s prologue includes, “In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God…” “…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us;” and even the name that we give the Messiah from our Jewish brothers and sisters is emmanuel, God is with us. Clearly the simple fact of God becoming human is of exceeding importance—it implies a weight and power to this physical existence, that what we do matters.
TWO, next, Jesus as teacher is so important—and I don’t mean “just” a teacher, I mean as the son of God, as The Teacher, as the teacher whose teaching came directly from God, as the teacher who lived everything he taught.
THREE If these are true, if Jesus’ life and teachings are so overwhelmingly powerful and memorable, then is his death necessary to validate his ministry? Is his death, as we tell the story, necessary for our salvation? And is his rising to life again necessary to make us pay attention? To show us the grace we receive freely? Hasn’t that all already been done in the mere presence of Jesus among us? So, Jesus has risen—so what?
My students have been pondering this question in all seriousness. Not in a sarcastic, “what difference does it make?” kind of way but “no, really, how does this make a difference?” One student described the struggle he was having as a cherry on top of a milkshake: is the cherry integral to the experience of the milkshake, or is it a lovely garnish but unnecessary to a well-made shake?
And it’s the pivotal question for Christianity—what difference does Jesus make? Not just the death and resurrection, but his whole person. Are we different now than before as a group of people? Are we different now as individuals than before we knew Jesus? Theologian Shane Claiborne puts it this way in his book Irresistible Revolution:
“If you ask most people what Christians believe, they can tell you, ‘Christians believe that Jesus is God’s son and that Jesus rose from the dead.’ But if you ask the average person how Christians live, they are struck silent. We have not shown the world another way of doing life. Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle in a little Jesus along the way.” (117)
So here’s your million-dollar question. Or maybe your milkshake question. In your life, what difference has Jesus made? If I walked down into the congregation and picked you out to share, what story would you tell us about how you treated someone differently, about how you took the right path not the easy one, about how you chose love over appearances? What is your story of resurrection?
Do you remember a few years ago, a man walked into an Amish school room and shot several of the girls before shooting himself? And how the families of those girls reacted? Grief, yes, but also with grace. They contacted the man’s wife and took care of her. They forgave the man and took care of his wife. That, that is not normal. That is because of Jesus.
Nearer to home, the other day, I was meeting a friend in Clifton and parked on the street near the IGA. There are often two or three folks on the street near that IGA with signs saying they’re homeless, asking for change. I don’t know about you, but I often tense up when I see them. I was faced with a decision—to give or not to give, right? And to acknowledge or not to acknowledge their presence. And as I approached them, I decided to create a third option. I approached them, asked how each was, shook their hands, wondered aloud if there was anything I could do for them, listened. Each exchange took only a little longer than it might have. And it became about people rather than an ethical dilemma. They’re still in poverty and I still don’t know what to do about that, but we parted with a smile of recognition. That…was not normal. That was because of Jesus.
Now, I share this story not to pat myself on the back but to tell you that these resurrection moments happen all the time. At any moment, we can make a decision to react differently than expected, to live for that moment as though everything Jesus said and did and was is 100% true. In that moment, when you share part of your life, part of your story with someone else, you become an evangelist. And it is a beautiful and thing. When you allow Jesus to change what you do, the question changes from “so what?” to “so that…?” Do you get it? Think about that story of resurrection in your life—fills you with, what? Joy? Excitement? Gratitude? And doesn’t it kind of push you a little—“tell someone,” it says, “find out if someone else has the same story,” it says, “go try something else,” it says. I should note that, in addition to being a campus missioner, I am also on the Evangelism Commission for the Diocese, and this is precisely what we’re encouraging folk to do. Share your story.
Notice that it’s all about the story. That story of Jesus back in the day, the story woven in our Scriptures, the stories we tell one another about our lives and fears and hopes. These stories aren’t just pretty and they aren’t just history—they matter, they are everything. And the resurrection is the only real ending, because without it, the story just stops and we have no motivation to follow in Jesus’ steps. Without the resurrection, we aren’t even a milkshake.
So the “Jesus is alive, so what?” question is really replaced with “Jesus is alive so that…what?” Jesus is alive so that we no longer live in fear of the end. Jesus is alive so that death is not the end. Jesus is alive so that the story continues. Jesus’ story is a gift—life, death, and resurrection—Jesus said and did and was so that we would love him and show that love. That story is THE STORY. What difference does Jesus death and resurrection make? It means that death is not the end of the story.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!