Did a Dead Man Really Return to Life?

From time to time I’m asked if the resurrection is true. Typically what the questioner means is: Did Jesus literally rise from the dead? Despite my theological training I cannot answer yea or nay definitively. I wasn’t there. I have no physical evidence, no eyewitnesses, and I don’t care.

That’s right. I don’t care. I don’t personally care whether or not Jesus of Galilee was physically resurrected. I don’t waste any time worrying about that kind of nuance.

What I do care about is the truth revealed in the biblical stories of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A universal truth is revealed in the narrative of the One who suckled at his human mother’s breast, grew up, and fully breathed in the Divine. He showed and taught how to take in and breathe out God. He lived a life of love for others.

The gospel account reveals a truth whether or not a human body literally popped back up after decaying for three days. It is evident whether the biblical narrative is literally true or metaphorically true.

We also witness this truth in the world in which we live. The predictable seasons reveal it. The lush deciduous trees of summer become dormant in the fall. Death. In the spring, sometimes nearly imperceptible at first, trees begin to bud returning to life. We live in a world of constant cycles of living, dying, and resurrection.

The gospel-revealed truth blossoms within and between us as well.

For example, my successes always pass. Winters of failure and in-between wilderness times reliably follow highs. Though these winters of wilderness may feel impenetrable, they do end. Some winters are especially harsh but they, too, are impermanent. In my spring, sometimes nearly imperceptible at first, buds form. Blossoms follow and green leaves fill out the tree of my life in the summer.

We can see this truth in our relationships, too. Some relationships die and new relationships take their place. Sometimes resurrections occur within relationships. Even within relationships the seasons cycle reliably.

In my own marriage, for example, times of contentment and happiness are followed by challenges. We had several particularly difficult years, filled with loud and hurtful arguments and too many tears. Our contentment and joy was dead in that winter wilderness. In time, those snows melted. Buds of our new love appeared and summer was resurrected.

***

On Palm Sunday, it seemed to Jesus’ followers that the story had a summertime ending. By Friday and through Saturday it seemed that an ice age length winter had descended. With the arrest, mockery, torture, and brutal killing of Jesus hope had died.

On Sunday, so the story goes, the women noticed the stone rolled away. They didn’t realize at first that the stone rolled from the tomb was a budding tree until Jesus made himself known to them. Life follows death.

Our human sinfulness, our ancestral hatred that fueled the crucifixion will never – NEVER – overcome the extravagant love of the One for long.

***

Our ancient kindred experienced the same One that I experience. They experienced a love that never gives up on humanity. Whether they experienced that love in the form of a literal resurrection of Jesus or they wrote metaphorical stories is irrelevant.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the witness of One who fully responded to God. In a world dominated by oppressive powers, Jesus opened his loving arms to the widow, the outcast, the poor, and the marginalized. His extravagant love for all could not be extinguished by fear, hatred, and the sins of humanity.

The truth is that we live in a world of rainbows, resurrections, and extravagant love luring us toward a better way.

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