Christ Is Risen! What Does It Mean to Me Today?

Growing up during the Cold War Era in a family proud of its Eastern European heritage and belonging to an ethnic Eastern European church, there was a story I heard periodically around Easter time. The story made its way into sermons and was sometimes repeated in family gatherings.

As there story goes, one evening in a Russian city a prominent intellectual was speaking to a large audience. The speaker was a member of the Communist party and his topic concerned religious belief in a Communist society. In great detail he explained Marx’s contention that religion is nothing more than the opiate of the people. He elaborated by saying that in a classless Communist society, people were equals and had no need for some fairy tale to bring them hope. After his speech, he asked for questions. An elderly Russian priest with a long grey beard raised his hand. The priest asked if he could make a comment. Sure that he could outwit the priest, the speaker invited him to the podium to use the microphone. When he arrived at the microphone, the priest carefully looked over the audience. Raising his head, in a booming voice, the priest exclaimed, “Christ is risen!” The audience stood in unison and responded, “Indeed, he is risen!” And the priest returned to his seat.

I don’t know if anything about this story is true. It’s simply a story I often heard. It was meant to convey the preciousness of our heritage, the importance of the Resurrection of Jesus as part of our faith, and our solidarity with long-lost relatives living in the Soviet bloc.

Today, as I reflect on this Easter holiday, my faith, and the Resurrection of Jesus, I know that my beliefs have grown, expanded, and evolved since childhood. From my studies, I have come to accept that the analysis of Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan which is shared by several others scholars is probably true: that while Jesus died on a cross, there’s no reason to believe that Pontius Pilate would have allowed his body to be taken down. As a sadistic tyrant, Pilate always left the bodies of those crucified on their crosses so that the corpses would be eaten by wild dogs and birds of prey. It was meant to be an added horror to the diabolical execution that was crucifixion. The earliest records about a resurrected Jesus are not about an empty tomb. Instead, they focus on miraculous appearances, conversations, and dreams. Were they real appearances or were they the kind of imaginings people experience at the loss of a loved one or as a kind of flashback from trauma? There’s no way to know. All we know is that those who experienced these appearances, conversations, and dreams took them to mean that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.

So what am I saying? Am I agreeing with people like Richard Dawkins that Christianity is based on lies? Certainly not! But I also don’t find evidence to support a claim for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I also don’t believe it matters. That’s because I have come to understand that resurrection is a fundamental truth in life.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)

The processes of death and decay are a normal part of our earthly existence. So is the rebirth of spring, the budding of new life, and the transformation of life from one form to another (as with a caterpillar to butterfly). If we pay attention to the ways of life around us, we know that death is never the final word. There is some sort of transformation that leads to a new and different kind of life. This perspective is found in the teachings of Jesus and was shared by the early Christians.

Dearly beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall later be has not yet come to light. (John 3:2)

In physics, there are a set of principles known as the Laws of Thermodynamics. Within the first law of thermodynamics is the law for the conversion of energy. This law holds that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Energy may change forms and flow from one place to another. But it continues to exist.

Some part of the essence of our lives is electro-chemical energy. This energy empowers our life. When this energy leaves us, we are no longer alive but dead. I contend that just as in thermodynamics that energy within a system cannot be created or destroyed but can change forms, so the energy of our lives is not destroyed does not end but is somehow transformed. What it becomes, I cannot say any more that the author of the gospel of John. But that the energy that makes us who we are continues on in some form of new life, yes, this I do believe. For me, it is resurrection.

I don’t claim to know all the answers of the resurrection. I’m sure that it’s not the mere resuscitation of worn out physical bodies or some sort of hocus pocus. Instead, I believe that death is followed by new life. That life may be in a different form and result from some sort of transformation of energy or life essence. But that doesn’t make it less real than the life we currently lead. And so, in faith, I embrace the mystery of the resurrection and am inspired by it. I trust that just as this life has been rich and beautiful so the transformation that occurs in the resurrection will also be rich and beautiful.

It’s really from that perspective that I join the priest in the story I was told in my childhood and affirm once again this Easter: Indeed, he is risen!

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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10 Responses to Christ Is Risen! What Does It Mean to Me Today?

  1. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

    God is with us!
    Thanks be to God.

    ” Indeed, Jesus Christ is Risen ” Alleluia!

  2. Diane Ryder says:

    In my first post-ordination Easter sermon, I said, “I would still believe in Jesus if His DNA were found in a tomb tomorrow.” Of course 30+ years ago, that had most of the attendees at that sunrise service rushing into the office of the Senior Pastor before the next worship service and asking that he fire me. He did not. I still stand by this position – although you have said it more eloquently than I did 30 years ago. Bravo! And HAPPY EASTER! S/He is risen indeed!!!!

  3. John Carr says:

    Thanks for this, Lou. Here is my “take” – a quote from an old Gospel song.
    “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” And in the hearts of children, women, and men for two millennia.

  4. Hi Lou,
    Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the whole matter. He didn’t seem to believe that Christ deserved to die but he let the people, whipped up by the priests, have their way. Joseph and Nicodemus, both were men of importance in the society, were given apparently, special permission by Pilate, to early remove the body of Christ for burial. Remember, Pilate didn’t agree that Christ deserved to die in place of Barabbas. Christ’s legs weren’t broken, as was the usual way to hasten death. Christ died quickly so to be in keeping with the Passover scriptures. Christ rose as Mary saw with her own eyes and at Pentecost so did the disciples. If this is imagination, dreams, wishful thinking, then everything in the bible is fallacy. The whole truth of the bible hinges on the fact that Christ was resurrected. We of today, weren’t there. We can only know that to be true through faith . Faith, that the writings that have survived over 2000 years are as true today as when they were written. If it was not so, I believe, history would have proven it, but it hasn’t. Why do we believe that Julius Cesar lived and did the things he did? Because it is in recorded history. The bible is the recorded history of man — mainly the history pertaining to the ten tribes of Israel. The bible takes special mention of Christ’s life and death, because it is the essence of all hope for all mankind. Christ has risen.

  5. Bernard Jacob says:

    Hi Lou,
    This article has me confused over what you have written. You said'”But I also don’t find evidence to support a claim for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I also don’t believe it matters.” If you do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, how can you say “Christ is risen”? It does matter, Lou…the bodily resurrection of Jesus…if it did not happen, then the faith of millions in the past and those today who are being martyred, are empty gestures! I have also not found teachings in the Bible about our existence described in terms of electro-chemical energy! No doubt the bible scholars you have read, have made worthy contributions but I am not convinced that just because some learned scholars say something, that it is the truth! I am reminded of the scholars in Jesus’ time who seemed united in wanting to tear apart what Jesus taught!

  6. Lou says:

    Hi, Bernard:

    Thanks for you posting. I appreciate that you took time to write.

    Indeed, I find no evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. There are several credible Biblical scholars who support this perspective. The earliest accounts in the New Testament (the letters by Paul written 25 or 30 years after Jesus’ death) simply state that “Jesus appeared.” There’s no burial or empty tomb. The burial and empty tomb come into the narrative 40 to 50 years after the death of Jesus — approximately two generations later. What really happened? I find that there’s no real evidence on which to base the claim of the bodily resurrection.

    But, for my faith, it doesn’t matter whether the bodily resurrection of Jesus occurred or, as John Dominic Crossan and others have stated, the body of Jesus most likely was left on the cross to rot as was common practice. My faith in the teachings of Jesus is that death is not the final word but that life continues in some transformed way that we don’t understand.

    As for the gospel accounts, just as the stories in Matthew and Luke present totally different accounts of the birth of Jesus, the record of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John resent very different accounts of the resurrection. In fact, Mark’s account originally ended but others later added two different endings (the longer and the shorter) so that the writing attributed to Mark would resemble Luke and Matthew.

    I do want to suggest that by saying that the honest statement of my assessment of Biblical scholarship and my faith makes the martyrdom of others an empty gesture is essentially hyperbole. I have simply stated my own experience of faith. I respect that others may have different beliefs. I also recognize that Christians have a wide variety of beliefs about many things including what it means for the Bible to be inspired, what occurs at the sacrament of communion, and what is the essence of salvation. In fact, many beliefs shared by various groups of Christians are 180 degrees different from each other. What it means to be a Christian is, in reality, very broad, wide, and diverse and it has been over the millennia.

    Again, thanks for your comment.

    Lou

  7. Lou says:

    Dianne:

    I simply want to note that the historical records of Pilate as a Roman governor don’t match the gospel accounts. Several scholars have demonstrated that Pilate was a tyrant who was exceedingly cruel and seemed to take particular enjoyment in frustrating the Jewish religious leaders. In the 1950’s, Biblical scholars concluded that we can’t be sure if Jesus actually said anything that’s recorded in the gospels. At that time, Joachim Jeremias contended that we could only be sure that Jesus referred to God using the term “abba,” that is “daddy” or “papa.” There are many discrepancies in the gospels. If you read all four resurrection accounts, they are all different. The events don’t match. They are each very different stories.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Lou

  8. Lou says:

    Thanks, Diane.

    I read over the weekend that there’s a possible archeological find of the bones of Jesus. I have no idea if this is true and tend to doubt that this could ever be verified. But even if it was true and confirmed, it would not change my faith. The mystery of life, death, and new life is profound and can be evidenced throughout the cosmos.

    Lou

  9. Bill Percy says:

    Lou,

    Thanks for the post. I share your belief, and appreciate your using the idea of the transformation-but-conservation of energy to clarify how you (and I) view resurrection. The Buddhists say that all living creatures are the Buddha (or “have the Buddha-nature”), and Jesus is reported to have said, “The Kingdom of God is within you” and many other such sayings (“I am the vine, you are the branches,” etc.). So, relying on the testimony of so many before us, it makes sense to me to believe that when we die, we all are “raised,” that is, our energy/spirit is transformed. Of course, that passive-voice (“is transformed”) begs the question: Who is transformed? Thanks as always for a thought-evoking posting.

    Bill

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