He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Some Christians find those words at Easter a bit more than they can muster. That Jesus came back to life in his physical body isn't a sure thing, or a big thing, for them.
I think there were three things that caused the New Testament church to find the resurrection so fundamental; three meanings packed into, carried by, the resurrection story. For many of us, two of the three have fallen by the wayside. But the third!
The first, was that reality had broken through to resurrect Jesus bodily, which was proof that Jesus was tied to reality in a wholly unique way, and validated him as Messiah.
Given two millennia of distance in time, it is hard for a person of scientific bent to accept that relatively undocumented event as any kind of hard proof. Why wasn't Jesus revealed to the public (Acts 10:41), but only to those who knew him well before his death? Why do the gospels go to such lengths to show that after the resurrection Jesus' face was not recognized, often, by those who knew him best?
Mary Magdalene "...but she did not realize that it was Jesus."Two disciples on the road to Emmaus: "but they were kept from recognizing him." Hours of close conversation later "Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread."The disciples, on a mountain in Galilee "When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted."The disciples, fishing in the sea of Galilee, talking with someone on the shore "but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus." and some time later, when they're standing right next to him "None of the disciples dared ask him, 'Who are you?' They knew it was the Lord." If they knew so well, why did they even think of the question? Why was it noted in the scripture?
It's as if you had to know Jesus really well to recognize, despite some physical differences, a psychological unity of character, or something. Call it spirit. Conclusion: some people were walking around that by their spirit were recognizably Jesus?
The second was the matter of their own resurrection. Jesus was to be the first of many. Their own hope of a life after death, of death's being conquered, was based on Jesus' resurrection.
Many people nowadays doubt the afterlife, or an end-of-history resurrection. Many people don't want to live forever. For myself, without death I feel I have no dignity. Talk to me for over a thousand years and you'd be bored stiff with me. Given that I am so limited, what makes me tolerable, even enjoyable, is that like a good tune I have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
But the third! The third was their understanding of themselves, of the church. In biblical times Jews understood a human to be a body of earth inhabited by a spirit-breath-character (see The Healer Messiah Chapter 1). If the body wasn't breathing, it was dead, it had no spirit. The church was seen as the very body of the Messiah inhabited by the spirit of the Messiah, which was the very character of God (see The Healer Messiah Chapter 4).
Thus the church+, the church plus the Holy Spirit, was the bodily resurrected Messiah, walking the earth at the right hand of God, establishing justice and peace. For God's spirit appreciates even God's enemies, and wants to have a covenanted and confrontational relationship with them. The explosive growth of the church was powered by this groundbreaking understanding of personal, social, and political relationships.
That one still catches my breath, at Easter. That one still makes me shout my Hosannahs, Alleluias and Amens. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
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