As I write this post, I am looking out my office window toward Lane Avenue. The sun is shining, a light breeze is shaking the bushes and the ivy on the hill, and the temperature is in the upper fifties and climbing. It’s a beautiful spring day. It’s the kind of day that inspires hope in even the bleakest of hearts. The kind of day that makes the implausible seem not just plausible but likely.
Resurrection is one of the most implausible ideas in the entire realm of ideas. It goes against everything we think we know about life and the world. The dead don’t come back to life. They just don’t. Executed convicts do not turn out to be the savior of the world. Even if somebody dies on the operating table and they bring her back, she is not therefore immortal; she will eventually die again. Even Lazarus, after being raised by Jesus, was still mortal. Even the beauty of spring, when plants that have died or gone dormant awaken and bloom again, is only temporary. The cycle of the seasons will turn again, the blossoms will fade, and with the coming of autumn and winter senescence and dormancy will happen again.
But when we talk about the resurrection of Jesus we affirm that a dead man was given new life, and that that life is utterly indestructible. Jesus is alive, never to die again. And if we’re honest, that’s a tough one to swallow, even on a day like today. Resurrection simply doesn’t happen. Not in the real, non-fairy tale world, anyway.
Instead of, “Resurrection simply doesn’t happen,” I suppose it would be more accurate to say, “Resurrection doesn’t simply happen.” And that slight change in wording is the key to grasping the meaning of Easter. Resurrection is not a feature of the natural world in which we live. However we conceive of what happened on that first Easter morning, it was not something that just happened as a matter of course. The resurrected Jesus was not a chance mutation that will advance the evolution of our species. His raising was a deliberate act of God.
I no longer believe, as I was taught to believe from infancy, that God sent Jesus to die for our sins—that his death on the cross was part of God’s master plan from before the moment of creation, and was the sole or even the primary purpose of his life. Instead, I have come to understand Jesus’s death as the predictable consequence of a life lived in the unapologetic pursuit of justice. Anytime someone takes the side of poor and marginalized people, and begins organizing them and giving them hope, that person inevitably runs afoul of those powers that have a vested interest in keeping people poor and marginalized. And because these powers understand nothing so well as violence and repression, Jesus set himself on a collision course with Golgotha the moment he first spoke out on those people’s behalf.
The resurrection of Jesus was the deliberate act of God. It was God’s unmistakeable YES to Jesus and the way he lived his life, and God’s simultaneous NO to the powers who killed him. Apart from this act of God, Jesus would have stayed dead. Apart from God’s initiative in overcoming our hostility and self-destructive tendencies, we would stay dead. But God has acted in and through Jesus, and continues to act in and through the Holy Spirit, to raise us from the dead and grant us the same indestructible life God granted Jesus. The flowers that bloom within us will never die. The implausible, when God enters the picture, is not just plausible, not just likely, but inevitable. Praise be to God!