Faith Works 4-4-15
Tomorrow is Easter, the Sunday each year that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, executed by Roman orders at the instigation of the Temple authorities.
In fact, the reason most Christians have their day of worship on Sunday, "the first day of the week" as opposed to the older Sabbath day of rest, Saturday, is to mark every week the occasion of joy and wonder that Christ's resurrection is to believers.
But on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equniox it's the general time of year when that first resurrection… well, wait a minute.
Sometimes people, even practicing Christians, get a little muddled about the significance of Easter. It gets called "the one time in all of human history that someone has returned from the dead."
Well, in the Bible, there's at least ten who do. ("At least," because in Matthew 27:50-53, there are "many" who had died who walk the streets of Jerusalem at Jesus' resurrection, a sort of echo of the impact of the one event to others nearby.)
Elijah and Elisha raise people from death, Elisha's bones are said to have done so (II Kings 13:20), and along with others Jesus raises up, Lazarus most notably, both Peter and Paul are shown to have done so.
Jesus being raised from the dead is not, in and of itself, what's presented in the Gospels as special about him. As a pastor, I'm always surprised by how often people are surprised to hear me say that, but you can look it up. If you hold the Bible as your base, you already affirm that others besides Jesus have been raised from the dead.
I've read some interesting attempts to make distinctions between how Jesus returned and the others did so, and as a person of faith I'll grant you that the form and nature of Christ's return indicate he's not going through death again: Eutychus, Dorcas, Lazarus, they have returned but will pass through that door again. A distinction, perhaps.
To those who find religion and faith a puzzle, it's a distinction without a difference. Seriously, I've been asked, you think someone can die, die dead, and come back again? When I answer that as a matter of faith, and a matter of fact, yes I do, the conversation often moves on to the heart of the matter.
Why him, and not them? Why this person, and not that one? We all have our own examples, people whose departure left the world the less, and whose resurrection would doubtless brighten this poor cracked old globe and show good news to sorrowful humanity. I can think of a few myself I'd bring back in a heartbeat.
One thing is for sure, resurrection is presented in the Holy Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity as exceptional. It's not the norm. Ten, or even ten plus an uncertain dozen, versus the billions who die and are buried and who "pass on" – it's clearly not a common experience.
Why particular ones? That's easier to respond to than to explain "and why not this one?" Each raising from the dead in the Bible, up to and including that of Jesus, is presented as necessary to share the Gospel. It begins in healing, and continues through that ultimate act of restoration resurrection itself, as something that happens to show all who witness something important, something crucial about God's plan. In Nazareth, Jesus could barely even help the sick. In Jerusalem, despite the best efforts of Roman cruelty and security, Jesus himself is raised, to prove the truth of all he had promised.
And in the last book of the Bible, the coda, the finale, the resolution of God's "Resurrection Symphony" in Revelation is to proclaim and declare and enact an end to death altogether. The world we know and the lives we live cannot coexist with everyone being born and never dying, or even quite a few of us doing so. But the fulfillment of the hope that is woven into this creation, "the love that moves the sun and other stars" will bring about an end to pain, sorrow, tears, and yes, death. Death will be no more.
For that resurrection, Jesus' appearance on the first Easter is simply a down payment.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's curious to find out just how cold it is atop Horn's Hill at 6:30 tomorrow morning. Tell him how you greet Easter at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.