It may be a sign that April Fool’s Day fell during Holy Week this year, because that’s how some churches think about Easter. When they say, “Jesus is alive!” they don’t mean the tomb is empty but merely that Jesus’ spirit goes on, beating in every heart that reaches out and loves the other.
But it’s not just theological liberals who miss the point. Pay close attention to what is said in your church tomorrow. Does your pastor speak about “resurrection,” as if it were a concept, an inspiring promise that overcomes our fears, failures, and broken dreams? The resurrection of Jesus does promise all this, but only because this is beside the point.
I resolve never to speak of resurrection without the definite article “the.” We don’t believe in resurrection as a concept but only as the historical resurrection of Jesus. The empty tomb is a hard fact, not a soft platitude that things will get better if only we hang on until spring.
The specific resurrection of Jesus does inspire with hope that a better day is coming, but only because his leaving the tomb defeated the indomitable powers of sin and death. These forces are so overwhelming that, to borrow a phrase from the NCAA tournament, Jesus could only defeat them by “going small.” Jesus became vulnerable to their destructive power. He did not withstand their onslaught but buckled before it. He allowed them to take him down so he could take them out.
This is the triumph of Easter. If sin and death are not defeated in the victory of the resurrection, then it matters little that you feel inspired today. What good is it to have a spring in your step if your journey ends with your fall into death? But if the resurrection has defeated death, now we’ve got something to shout about.
Dropping the “the” may make it easier to reach non-Christians, but it will also guarantee that we have nothing to reach them with. The world loves to encourage itself with thoughts of resurrection, but it stumbles over the hard fact of the empty tomb. Don’t be too embarrassed to proudly proclaim God’s greatest triumph. You may gain a large audience if you drop the “the,” but you’ll send them all to hell. Don’t be a fool.
Photo by Donut_Diva. Used by permission. Sourced via Flickr.