By Pastor Tim Phillips
I am borrowing a line from a book Cherry Johnson passed along to me as we have been re-imagining Lent and Easter. The book by Peter Rollins seems generally to have been written for an audience other than us but I found great wisdom in it for our time.
For instance – and I’m paraphrasing here – part of the reason we have a rough time with the idea of resurrection is that we don’t really believe Jesus died. We know how the Easter story ends and we know that spring signals new life and we good liberal folk are generally optimistic about the world anyway. So it’s hard to take the death of Jesus all that seriously. That’s why Good Friday can feel contrived – like a little plot twist in a Hallmark movie you know is going to turn out just fine.
But for resurrection to be true, someone has to have been really, totally, and unmistakably dead. Easter Sunday isn’t celebrating the resuscitation of Jesus. Jesus didn’t get brought back to life. He died. Or, more accurately, he was killed. And the reality the disciples experienced on that Easter morning was, by all accounts, life of a different sort.
The death of Jesus and all the religion that has tried to bring him back to life is, for Rollins, to experience the reality of the Crucifixion: “If the Crucifixion marks the moment of darkness, then the Resurrection is the very act of living fully into the darkness and saying ‘Yes’ to it.” Resurrection, in other words, is not some denial or escape from death but whatever new life happens in the face of it.
And that life, I think, is of a very different sort. On occasion people give me near-death stories to read or share a story of their own. Usually those stories include some epiphany about life. If that’s true about near-death experience, imagine the revelations of a real death experience. What gets revealed in the stories of those first disciples is that, having experienced the death of Jesus, they did not try to resuscitate their old lives. They did not pick up where they left off. They do not claim that Jesus never really died and then trot him out to prove to the world that his death was some form of “fake news.” Jesus died. And they began living a new life - the life of resurrection. Rollins says: “Resurrection is not something one argues for, but it is the name we give to a mode of living.”
To say, “I believe in the insurrection,” is to talk about life in resurrection mode. I realize it has political overtones. Perhaps it is resurrection for such a time as this. Rollins says: “Resurrection life plants us into the very heart of a battle … it is one that sets itself against the systems that oppress people, preventing their development into fully responsible, ethical individuals.”
Every day, like Jesus, people die real deaths at the hands of oppressive and unjust systems. Every day, by some action, what I have wanted to believe and to hope for my country seems to die. Every day there is more bad news about the environment and the deaths of ice caps and corals. Those deaths are real. Pretending they are not will only bring more of the same.
Resurrection is the life that happens in the face of all that. It is a mode of living that plants us in the heart of a battle. It’s resistance that is real. It’s insurrection. It’s a call on Easter morning for all those who love life in all its varied and wondrous and beautiful forms to rise up!
Note: Peter Rollins’ book is Insurrection: to believe is human, to doubt, divine. (Howard Books, 2011)
Editor's Note: This blog is a reprint of an article written for the April, 2017 edition of The Spire.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist