I love easter. It is my favourite date on the liturgical calender. I feel it is also the most important Sunday in the year for Christians to gather and celebrate hat which is central to our faith, the resurrection. As a pastor I find it the greatest honour to perform 4 or 5 services in Holy Week and Easter in order that people might be overcome with awe and wonder at the resurrection and what it means for them and our world. Alleluia, He is risen, He is risen indeed! What follows is a small part of my easter message. This year’s was quite personal for me. I don’t know why but for some reason the story just came alive within me again. Perhaps in years gone past I had taken the resurrection for granted. Whatever it is, God is faithful!
Would you believe it if I told you my bookshelf at home is rather small? It is simply a hutch over my recently acquired desk. Because of its small size I only keep my most read and enjoyed books. These are the books that interest me, challenge me and help me in my personal walk with the Lord. Of the four shelves I have there is one which seems to me to be a peculiar fit (for me at least); my growing interest in the study of the historical Jesus.
On this shelf are books by conservative scholars, liberal scholars, the not so scholarly and even the barely Christian. Each book details reasons for against the gospel portraits of Jesus. Some uphold the traditions spoken by the 4 gospel writers and some deconstruct it with little regard to Christian faith. Most, however, treat the text with respect and raise interesting and profound questions relating to the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the secondary sources. Each book, without exception, deals with the resurrection. What is most interesting about this field of study is most are not interested in the theological implications of the resurrection. These are historians searching for historical proof Jesus was raised from the dead or arguing against its historical validity. The danger of such study is that one might well be tempted to accept the Jesus reconstructed from historical study over and against the resurrected Christ portrayed in the Gospels! I guess sometimes it is easier to look for the Christ we want instead of the Jesus we have. It seems to me that all too often the story is depersonalised into facts and historical claims at the expense of the good news.
As I looked back over my sermons since beginning at our church, I noticed how much I have spoken at Easter time of my belief that the 4 gospels contain the historical witness of Jesus’ resurrection. Each year without exception I have outlined the facts and submitted the evidence as to why I believe Jesus rose from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures. However, it occurred to me this week; it is all too easy to depersonalise the resurrection with facts and figures and in doing so distance ourselves from the beauty and wonder of this day!
In his book, White Jacket, Herman Melville tells the story of Dr Cuticle, a ship’s doctor on board a navy frigate in the late 1800’s. After months at sea all Dr Cuticle (An accomplished surgeon) has treated are blisters, cuts and bruises. When a sailor presents with appendicitis the doctor is over joyed. All of a sudden he is free to showcase his real talents. The good doctor goes to work with the aid a few sailors as nurses. Every cut is precise. As he operates he pontificates about the wonders of the human body and explains in every detail the anatomical details of the abdomen. He is absorbed in his work. He is good at. He knows his stuff. But the sailors were not impressed. As the man was skilfully sewn up they were well aware he had been dead for quite some time! Too nervous to say anything. No matter how skilful one is as a surgeon failure to give attention the patient is unforgivable! 1
In my attempt to prove or disprove the resurrection of Jesus, in the process of explaining every detail of the resurrection and the history surrounding it, with extreme skill and professionalism, I wonder if I have unknowingly “let the patient die” on the table before me? It is all too easy, even for pastors, to depersonalise the resurrection!
I have a joke, not a very good one, in which I say that if Jesus had stayed in the tomb on Friday I’d get the rest of the weekend off and could go away like everyone else. Truth is, if Jesus had stayed in the tomb, we’d all get the weekend off! Resurrection is the hope of the Christian faith. It is the hope of the world. But this hope is not found in the facts and figures. In each of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, without exception, those who come across the empty tomb – whether it is by invitation of an angel or by personal discovery – are overcome with awe and wonder! This easter may we all be overcome with what Eugene Peterson calls, Resurrection wonder!
Peace be with you.