“Sir, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but what difference does it make?” In the midst of a great discussion about Jesus’ resurrection, my student had asked what most of the others in the class were thinking. This event happened thousands of years ago. It’s in the past. The world doesn’t seem any different!
And I could understand the question. With so many more important things going on in her teenage life, the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t a priority. She still had to think about exams, her local job in the supermarket, her date at the weekend, hair, make-up, the next Little Mix album. What did resurrection have to do with anything in her life? Not much it seemed.
But I have come across this question countless times and I have even asked it of myself in the past. So what difference does the resurrection make? Well, some obvious differences and some less obvious.
Firstly, a very obvious one. If there had been no resurrection there would be no belief in a Jesus Christ and there would be no major religion called Christianity. There would be no New Testament. No churches. No baptism, no Eucharist. Nothing. You see, without the resurrection, Good Friday would be a bad Friday. It might, at the very least, be a day which remembered a brilliant young preacher called Jesus of Nazareth, who stood up for the poor and stood up against the hypocrisy of the religious and political establishments, which led to his unfair execution. You might be able to visit his resting place outside Jerusalem. There may even be groups of people who would still follow his teachings and try to tell people about his great philosophy of life. But he would only be remembered as an inspiring leader.
Secondly, the resurrection is a promise of forgiveness and that sin does not have power over us any more. On the cross, Jesus felt the weight of our sin (Holy Week#3 blog will tell you more about this) and he died carrying this sin. But that was not the end. It should have been for any person. But by raising Jesus from the dead, God has promised us that God’s love is ultimately greater than any, and I mean, any sin that you or I commit.
I saw this when I worked as a chaplain in Liverpool prison. Jason had been coming to our chapel service every Sunday but was carrying unbelievable shame and guilt for how he had hurt others as part of a gang in Liverpool. But he had been deeply hurt in the past himself, having been raped by a family relative at a very young age. His life was a mess. Jason plucked up the courage to speak to us in chaplaincy and over time he got to hear about Jesus, his death and resurrection. In many of these conversations, he cried and cried…and cried. And it clicked with Jason one day…he had been looking to change his life by himself, taking drugs and alcohol to numb the pain and block out his guilt. And here was someone, Jesus, who had overcome the worst of sin and had risen to new life. And this same power was being offered to him…for free!! He decided to be baptised and we did this in the chapel on, that’s right, an Easter Sunday morning. Over time, Jason experienced unbelievable acceptance and love and great healing because of the resurrection. He has not been back to prison, is happily married and I am still in touch with him. And this forgiveness and love is offered to us too – many have accepted it and their lives have completely changed.
Thirdly, the resurrection tells us that suffering and pain do not have the last word. In Jesus passion, we see unimaginable suffering and pain; the physical pain from his body hanging on the cross (there was no morphine!), emotional hurt (he had been denied, betrayed and abandoned by those closest to him) and spiritual suffering (he could not feel the presence of God; his desperate prayers were met with silence). But he went through it, experienced it and died offering it all to his Father. But the resurrection showed that love was stronger than the most unspeakable suffering one can experience. Countless numbers of people have been strengthened and comforted in the most devastating physical and emotional moments and experiences of their lives because they can lean on a God, in Jesus, who knows what it is to suffer and gives them the strength and hope that the resurrection brings.
The love that Jesus experienced on that Easter morning, which raised him to new life, is the same love that is today driving the outpouring of love for all those affected by the coronavirus. It inspires people to put their lives on the line for the sick in our hospitals, it inspires the Thursday clapping for the NHS staff, it inspires people to sacrifice their time and money to ensure people are being cared for and looked after. Resurrection may not be mentioned, God may not be given as the reason for their actions but John, an apostle of Jesus, told his readers in one of his letters that God is love and that love has its source in God (1 Jn 4:7-21).
Fourthly, death is no longer to be feared because of the resurrection. We have been given a promise by God that our lives have a purpose and a meaning that extends beyond the grave. We don’t have to think in terms of just this life; we now can think of our lives in terms of eternity. When Jesus came back to life and appeared to his disciples, sometimes they recognised him and sometimes they didn’t. At times he appeared and disappeared like a ghost. But he wasn’t a ghost – they could touch and feel him and see that he was still flesh and blood. It was the same Jesus but yet it wasn’t. It was the same body but yet is seemed different. Jesus could no longer be held by space and time. This was resurrection. And Jesus had said something important to Martha on his way to the tomb of Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die.” (John 17:25)
This means that people who are facing death, whether it is their own or that of a loved one, have an incredible hope that there is life after death. This really sustains them. But unlike any other faith, the reason for their hope is because Jesus actually rose from the dead and was seen by many people. But Jesus’ resurrection goes further. The events of Easter Sunday are not simply pointing to a life after death in heaven. Rather, Jesus resurrection is about life after life after death. St. Paul and the Book of Revelation point towards a time in history when Jesus will come back and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. And who will be on this renewed earth? We will be but in our resurrected bodies. And Jesus was the first example of what this body will be like…we will not be held by space and time and there will be no more suffering, no more pain and no more death. Everything will be as God would want it to be. And this is our future if we really and truly want it.
Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus led to the founding of a new religious movement, which would be later known as Christianity. And because the resurrection affirms the teachings and actions of Jesus, Christians have been inspired to live out his message through their words and actions. And this has proved to be powerful beyond belief. For starters, how incredible is it that this small sect which the Roman Empire had persecuted (even executing Jesus in 35 CE) became its official religion in 323 CE without a single sword being lifted by Christians? So what weapons did they use? Love, compassion, prayer and a willingness to die for their faith.
But the less obvious difference that the resurrection has made is this: the Christian faith, with the resurrection as its central belief, has had a profound impact on human progress and development in our world’s history. From its earliest times, the Jewish-Christian belief in humanity being made in the image of God was at odds with the cultures and religions around it. The prevailing Greco-Roman culture valued status, wealth, strength and wisdom whereas Christianity valued the poor, the weak, the sick, the foolish and the innocent. This, in time, led to unprecedented changes in society. In the ancient world, Christianity, with its emphasis on the value of human life, stopped the practice of infanticide, raised standards of morality, opposed slavery, inspired what we today call charity and relief work, created hospitals and orphanages and founded schools. In medieval times, Christianity founded colleges and universities, established the means of how society and democracy is established and changed the status of labour so as to be seen as a divine vocation. In the modern era, Christianity has massively contributed to science (we are supposed to believe they are deadly enemies!!), led in the abolition of the slave trade, contributed to the downfall of communism and apartheid, created the hospice movement and has been a source of inspiration for music, art, architecture and literature.
Many historians have argued that what we value most in our society today has its origins in the Christian faith. What we will often hear today is that Christianity is old fashioned, out-of-date and has little relevance for the social and political world of today. This completely ignores the fact that most of what compromises our Western culture today is inherently Christian. And many want to ignore this. They consider themselves too modern to believe in “all that stuff.” The answer to the question “What has Christianity ever done for us?” would require many volumes of books.
So back to my student’s question. What difference does the resurrection make? I think what I have written above is possibly a good start.
But the resurrection of Jesus is meant to be personal to you and me. Another Easter Sunday has come and gone. It has been somewhat different this year due to the restrictions placed on us by the coronavirus. Maybe this has been the way you would normally celebrate Easter anyway. For some, perhaps you go to church for the Easter services. Maybe you go every Sunday. Possibly, this blog has been the most reading on the Christian faith you have done in some time. Maybe this time has afforded you more time to think.
Could I challenge you? The death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth two thousands years ago was for you. It happened so as to give you true freedom from the things that weigh you down, whether it is sin, past life experiences or present worries and problems. It was to tell you that love is the greatest power on earth and that if you accept God’s invitation to be your God, your life will change forever. You do not have to prove anything to God, you cannot earn this love and you do not have to stop being yourself. All you have to do is accept what God wants to do in you and is already doing in you.
So my prayer for you today is from St Paul. Don’t read it quickly but slowly..
“I ask that your minds may be opened to see his light, so that you will know what is the hope to which he has called you, how rich are the wonderful blessings he promises his people, and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength, which he used when he raised Christ from death…” (Ephesians 1: 18-20a)
Take a deep breath. Take a risk. Then take the leap of faith. What difference does it make? All the difference in the world.
The next blog post will be on Monday, 20th of April. And it won’t be as long!! Time to take a little break. God bless, Ken.