The Easter story is an unexpected injection of hope in a world gone mad with power and violence.
Jesus found himself in the middle of much of it: on one hand he refused to be corralled by the politics of a militant empire; on the other hand he criticized the selfish actions of the religious systems.
He was a troublemaker and he threatened peace and safety.
So they killed him.
Long story short, death wasn’t a problem …
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All over the world today Christians are greeting each other with the statement, “He is risen!” and reflecting back the traditional response, “He is risen indeed!”.
In my ignorance I used to think the whole thing was structured wrong grammatically. The Resurrection, after all, happened a couple thousand years ago so the phrase should correctly be in the past tense: “He has risen” and “He has risen indeed”. How embarrassing.
Of course the ‘is’ phrases we use are ancient and based on the first eyewitness accounts of the risen Jesus. In Eastern Orthodox tradition they are thought to be the words Mary Magdalene proclaimed to the Roman Emperor Tiberius (no doubt with some attitude).
Jesus didn’t overcome the violence of his torture by striking back like everyone hoped and expected. While hanging on the cross he uttered, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
Instead, he overcame the ultimate weapon sin had: death. He did that simply by absorbing, emptying, embarrassing, and swallowing it up in love. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” – from Colossians 2:15, NIV
Jesus had overcome the violence of humanity with an unexpected strategy – infinite love.
This obviously didn’t end earthly violence but it was a clear statement from God that violence is not in his will or his nature. In fact it is the opposite. Or as Richard Rohr writes in Immortal Diamond, “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity but to change the mind of humanity about God.”
Jesus died for his words and influence. He was killed in a gruesome but effective way by soldiers who knew how to do it. The many witnesses (much of Jerusalem) knew he was dead. Jesus’ body was taken to a tomb and, just for good measure, a Roman guard was dispatched to ensure that his dead body stayed in the tomb.
But only a couple of days after that infamous crucifixion, word began to circulate in Jerusalem that Jesus’ tomb was empty. In a mind-numbing break from Roman military discipline, the guards tasked with guarding the tomb were quietly reassigned and not punished for their failure. Mysteriously, various people saw Jesus alive on numerous occasions in the days that followed.
Even more mysteriously, they boldly took to the streets to proclaim that the impossible had happened. In a sense, their hatred and fear had been nailed to the cross with Jesus and they were somehow now sharing in his new life. In fact, they believed that the risen Jesus was actually with them, right here, right now. A belief strongly held by Christians like me to this day.
As for the proper tense of ‘risen’, I was wrong. The present tense is intentional and uniquely Christian.
The Resurrection was not just an historic event but an ever present truth: Jesus is risen – alive and with us now.
The response to that statement is the confirming experience of our brothers and sisters, Yes he is risen. Yes indeed.