Have you ever had a friend or family member who was a chronic liar? I went to college with a guy who, as far as we could tell, couldn’t help himself. I say that because when he lied, it was about dumb stuff. Like, he told a bunch of us that he owned a corvette. Which is awesome – except he didn’t drive a corvette. He said it was because his parents wouldn’t let him bring it to school. Which actually made sense.
But then he told some of us it was a blue corvette. Then he told other guys it was a yellow corvette.
Uh. Wait. Which one is it?
We asked him.
“Oh, I have two corvettes,” he said. “A blue one and a yellow one.”
Riiiiiight. This is where the story became just too out there for us to believe it.
I share that story because we’re gathered today to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. And it’s this story where I often lose people when we’re talking about faith.
Afterall, people in general love Jesus. They see his kindness towards those on the margins. How he spoke truth to power, challenged those who abused their power. His pithy wisdom and provocative parables resonate with us even today. It’s no wonder he’s listed among the greatest persons who ever lived – up there with Buddha, Mohammad, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Dr. King.
But then we get to Easter. To the conviction we have that, after Jesus was crucified, he was buried. Then, on Sunday, his body was raised from the dead.
I can’t tell you the number of times someone has said, “So you really believe that?” as though I’ve just told them that thunder is angels bowling.
And yet… we do believe that. More than just that we believe Jesus was raised from the dead, we believe that his resurrection is what validates all the other stuff we love about Jesus. The resurrection is what proves that Jesus’ way in the world makes sense. It’s why we can find the courage to love our enemies, to resist oppression, to live in solidarity with the marginalized. To speak truth to power. To confront the sin in our own hearts.
Jesus’ resurrection makes all this possible. Without Jesus’ resurrection, there’s nothing to Christianity. Paul, who planted many of the first churches, said as much in one of his letters. In writing to the churches in the Greek city of Corinth, Paul said:
But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. — 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 (NLT)
“If Christ has not been raised, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”
Does it surprise you that in Corinth, there were people who denied resurrection? After all, don’t we usually think of ourselves as the scientific, rational people who have moved beyond superstition? It was those primitive people back then who believed in gods and omens and miracles.
But Corinth is a Greek city – the culture of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They were skeptical people, especially to outlandish claims like Paul’s that there’s only one God, that this God had a son, and that not only was this son crucified, but three days later, God raised him from the dead.
For Paul, this wasn’t just a cool story. And it wasn’t an optional idea. Paul didn’t think we could take all the good stuff Jesus said about loving our enemies and being kind to the outsider, but leave the resurrection. Why?
Well, since it’s Easter Sunday, we’re going to hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection again, and we’re going to pay particular attention to the people in the story who weren’t excited about it. Those who were threatened by the idea that God might raise God’s son from the dead.
Who would lie about Easter? Well, the people who stand to lose when God brings justice. Those who profit off the misery of others. Those who thrive in the midst of ethnic division. Those who don’t have the courage to look within and be changed.