The Rev’d Dr Fredrick Robinson is the retired Rector of The Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, Florida, and editor of The Anglican Digest.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
One day three men were walking along and came upon a raging, violent river. They needed to get across to the other side, but had no idea how to do it. The first man prayed to God, saying, “Please, God, give me strength to cross the river.” Poof! God gave the man big arms and strong legs, and he was able to swim across the river in about two hours.
Seeing this, the second man prayed to God, saying, “Please, God, give me the strength to cross the river.” Poof! God gave him a rowboat, and he was able to row across the river in about three hours.
The third man, seeing how things had worked out for the other two, also prayed to God, saying, “Please, God, give me the strength and ability and intelligence to cross the river.” Poof! God turned him into a woman; she looked at the map, then hiked 100 yards upstream and walked across the bridge.
All joking aside, the four accounts of the Gospel, while differing in details, agree that the first to experience the resurrected Jesus were women. That makes sense, since all of the disciples, except John, had fled in fear that they would be implicated. New Testament scholars agree that ironically it is this detail that strengthens arguments for the truth of the resurrection. In the first century A.D., the witness of women was not considered credible because of their low social status. Timothy Keller, in his compelling book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, says that the scholar N.T. Wright “argues that there must have been enormous pressure on the early proclaimers of the Christian message to remove women from the accounts. They felt they could not do so—the records were too well-known.” If the story of the resurrection of Jesus was a literary device to convince people that Jesus simply lived on in his followers’ hearts and minds, they certainly would not have fabricated the kind of accounts we have in all four versions.
Lord Carey, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, who visited here in December last year, said that “in recent years it has been asserted that the Easter story has a tenuous and tentative historical foundation. The stories of the appearances to the disciples, and even of the Empty Tomb, it is said, are stories that were made up in order to shore up the faith of the Church. What nonsense that is! There never was a Christian faith which was not at the same time an Easter faith. It was the resurrection which gave birth to belief…”
The witness of the New Testament, from a wide variety of sources, is that the resurrection was completely unexpected. There was a belief in Judaism in a general resurrection, which would occur on the Last Day and would include all who had died in the faith. There was no belief that any individual would rise from the dead.
All who knew Jesus felt that he had been put to death for good, shown to be an imposter, just like many other would-be messiahs. His disciples considered him defeated, their only recourse being to escape a similar fate and to go about their individual lives. It was the encounter with the risen Jesus that changed everything.
There were skeptics in the first century and there have been skeptics ever since. Some consider Jesus a great teacher, or a great moral leader, but deny that he rose from the dead. But make no mistake about it; the proclamation of those original disciples was that Jesus died on the cross and on the third day rose from the dead, and that this same Jesus is Savior and Lord. St. Paul expresses the faith of the early Church when he tells the Corinthians, “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain.”
Timothy Keller, from whose book I quoted earlier, is a retired Presbyterian minister who started a church in New York City in 1989—Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and now he has a church with over 6000 regular attendees at five services, with a host of daughter churches. He also planted churches around the world. His book, The Reason for God, seeks to answer many questions that people have about Christianity in our day. It has such chapters as “There Can’t Be Just One True Religion,” “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?,” and “Science Has Disproved Christianity.” I recommend the book to you.
In the chapter, “The Reality of the Resurrection,” he states that the resurrection “changes our lives completely.” He goes on, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching, but whether or not he rose from the dead. That’s how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection. They knew that if it was true, it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want. It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.
C.S. Lewis says much the same thing about the Christian faith in general. “Christianity, if false,” he said, “is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” And I believe he would agree that its importance hinges on the resurrection.
I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, that indeed his resurrection does change everything, and that this world in which we live needs desperately to know him, to love him, to worship him, and to obey him. Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Are you responding in your everyday life to that reality?
Penelope, Jane, Felicity, John, and James have now been baptized into this faith. Through their baptism they now have the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, are full members of the Church, and participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for these newest members of his family!
Alleluia! Christ is risen!