We are all looking for a resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus is the unraveling of the power of death in every sense. This moment in time has, in that way, become the pivot point of all history.

For the believer, it is the climax of our story; the overlap of heaven and earth; the power that fuels hope and love and life.

For the unbeliever, it is impossible. Men die. Dead men do not live again. It defies natural law, science and logic – and those things must always lead the way.

For all of us, it is the sort of thing that either is true or should be true. Someone ought to do something about all of the pain and loneliness and suffering scattered about. Someone ought to break into the realm of natural law, science and logic and do something about death. Few dispute this. These are, after all, the chief goals of not only religion, but medicine, psychology, biotechnology, and all manner of scientific and logical pursuits. More life. Less death.

We are all looking for a resurrection.

Our trouble

    "Where do you come from?" Pilate asked.
    But Jesus gave him no answer.
    So Pilate addressed him again.
    "Aren't you going to speak to me?" he said. "Don't you know that I have the authority to let you go, and the authority to crucify you?"
    "You couldn't have any authority at all over me," replied Jesus, "unless it was given to you from above. That's why the person who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin."
    From that moment on, Pilate tried to let him go.
    But the Judaeans shouted at him.
    "If you let this fellow go," they said, "you are no friend of Caesar! Everyone who sets himself up as a king is speaking against Caesar!"
    So when Pilate heard them saying that, he brought Jesus out and sat down at the official judgment seat, called The Pavement (in Hebrew, 'Gabbatha'). It was the Preparation day of the Passover, and it was about midday.
    "Look," said Pilate, "here is your king!"
    "Take him away!" they shouted. "Take him away! Crucify him!"
    "Do you want me to crucify your king?" asked Pilate.
    "We have no king," the chief priests replied, "except Caesar!"
    Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

-from John 19

From Tom Wright…

    When the Image of God appears in creation, the point is that the rest of creation will look at this Image and see their creator reflected. Now the son of God appears as the true Image of God, and the world is so corrupt in its rebellion that, rather than recognize the true creator God reflected in this Jesus, it must get rid of him, must blot out the reminder of who God really is, must do anything rather than be confronted by the one whose love will stop at nothing to reconcile creation to himself.

    And we who now stand at the foot of the cross have to face the most searching questions, the questions we avoid like the plague because we, too, find it desperately uncomfortable to look at the face of God's Image, the man, the king, and see there the perfect likeness of the maker and redeemer of the world. We are so stuck in the systems of Caesar — his swords, his coins, his gambling soldiers — that we too have a hard time recognizing truth of any kind, let alone speaking up for it. We are so anxious to protect the philosophies upon which our modern world is built that we will do anything to declare that we have no king but Caesar, that when push comes to shove religion is just a private thing which mustn't affect the public sphere, even when Jesus is reminding Caesar's representative that he only has power because God has given it to him. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why the church is in such pain at the moment, caught between "what is truth?" on the one hand and "no king but Caesar" on the other.

[From The Scriptures, the Cross & the Power of God.]

How do we follow a dead guy?

[I originally posted the following on Easter 2003 when we were still living in northeast Pennsylvania. Aiden, our oldest, was seven months old. The friend with whom I exchanged the included emails is now one of my best friends and co-pastors.]

It's Easter, and in a few hours Amy and I will put on our Easter best (or we'll put on clothes anyway) and go celebrate the resurrection of God's Son with other believers in our community at Parker Hill. That's a good thing to celebrate; the best thing, really. I just have this sense that many of us are only tuned into to half of the story. Some may think the following thoughts would have been more appropriate to post on Good Friday, and maybe that's true. Only they weren't written until very late on Friday (early Saturday, actually), so that wasn't possible and I don't feel like saving them for a year. Besides, I think it's about more than Friday or Sunday, or any particular time of year. Our faith isn't seasonal, or at least it shouldn't be. The Easter remembrance is an appropriate time for this sort of focus, but I think this has as much to do with who we are and what we believe as it does with how we feel one Friday a year.

A friend sent me an email at about 1 am on Saturday that included the following thought:

By this time 2000 years ago, Jesus had been dead for several hours, and the disciples were freaking out.

That image really resonated with me, and I replied this way:

Your reminder about what was happening 2000 years ago is deep and meaningful for me, which is how I'm sure you meant it. I've really been in that moment tonight more than ever before, and your brief reflection on it is all the more real after what we experienced earlier tonight. Our church had a communion service, and it was basically a funeral. I know some people use the descriptor "funeral" to disparage certain lifeless worship services, but that's not how I mean it. This was intentional and necessary. The mood was purposefully somber, and we were encouraged to begin quietly reflecting on the cross and Christ's death from the moment we entered the building.

One of our pastors began by opening a newspaper and reading excerpts from the obituaries. He said that reading about all those dead people didn't affect him much because he didn't really know them. The paper was from his hometown, so he recognized a couple of names, but none of them meant anything to him. Then he went back to the paper and read a woman's name with the same last name as him – his mother. He said this: "The effect Jesus' death has on us is proportional to the depth of our relationship with Him." Indeed. If we're able to breeze by Friday in the Easter weekend without being deeply affected by the cross and by Christ's death, it's like flipping through an obituary with names of people we don't really know. For the Christ follower, "Good Friday" should have the kind of effect it had on him [my pastor] to see his Mom's name listed among the dead. He insisted that we not move on to Sunday too soon; that we live in the reality of Jesus' death for the next two days.

The imagery of the funeral was very powerful to me tonight. As it relates to Jesus, we've all done the birthday parties, wedding, feasts, and resurrection celebration, but why haven't we ever done His funeral? The resurrection is ultimately what gives us life, but it's life from death. The resurrection required the crucifixion. Our obsession with the end game has obscured devastation and grief over the death of Christ so that we consider it sacrilege to ruminate on His death without tying it up with the happy ending. We didn't do that tonight. I don't believe there was any mention of the word "resurrection" except to encourage a regathering on Sunday for that celebration. Death was enough tonight, and it was okay to mourn. We left as quietly and as somber as we came. I think that's good. I think God is pleased for us to be grief-stricken over the death of His only Son.

And yeah, you're right about the disciples freaking out at this point 2000 years ago. I was reading in Matthew tonight trying to imagine what all of this was like for them. Jesus seemed to speak so matter of factly about what was going to happen in the days leading up to Passover, but I think those cats were clueless as to what was about to go down. Although we always get to make fun of Peter's foible in insisting that he'd never forsake Jesus, I was noticing the bandwagonish description of the rest of the disciples in that passage. Jesus tells them that they'll all fall away and be scattered like sheep, and Peter jumps out front and swears he'll die before he denies Him…"and all the disciples said the same thing too." These guys were either terrified or totally lost or both.

And I think your focus on their reaction a few hours after Jesus died goes to the heart of experiencing his death. We gloss over the reality of him being dead because we have this simultaneous propositional teaching that the resurrection came three short days later. For people living 2000 years after the fact, three days has absolutely no meaning. No big deal – he went down for a few days, then he was back on the scene and we're all good to go. I don't think we have even a marginal understanding of the fact that He didn't go to sleep for a few days…He wasn't in a coma…He wasn't laying low, hanging out in Joseph of Arimathea's luxurious rock cave drawing up organizational charts and strategic plans for the early Church on the walls until Sunday.

He was DEAD.

You had people who had given their entire lives to following Him (in ways that none of us can begin to relate to, really) who were suddenly left with a dead body.

How do we follow a dead guy?

He had told them He would be back, but it's clear they didn't know how to begin believing that in any tangible way.

My inability to comprehend what that was like is pathetic. I'm trying to get into that world and experience that loss with them, but I'm not even close. Amy has a friend from grad school who just found out about three months ago that his one-year old son had a rare, terminal form of cancer. This week, only ten weeks after the diagnosis, he died. We found out yesterday, and it was pretty emotional because it's so personal to imagine watching our baby die. Thinking about the pain and loss they must be feeling literally makes me ache to my bones, and I don't even know them and can't begin to taste the depth of their suffering. It's as bad as anything I can imagine. As I think on the death of Christ, that's what I'm thinking about. This is something that we need to feel more deeply, I think.

A letter to a friend

Dear Julio,

Please make your plastic salsa containers easier to open. My fingers are bleeding.

Warmest regards,
your friend Thad

P.S. I usually prefer to eat the hot salsa, but sometimes better judgment leads me to cut it with a bit of mild to spare my innards. Perhaps you could consider a medium version for gringos like me who have a taste for spicy paired with dubious digestive tolerance. Many thanks.