As a university pastor, every funeral I lead is a tragedy. This student, staff member, or professor died too young. A car accident. Suicide. Cancer. Whether 22 or 58, whether just starting out or just hitting their stride, they have died too young. They had more life to live.
I’m the one who has to somehow make sense of it all. I have to stand up and say that this life—this precious, too-short life—mattered. I have to say that God loves that person and God loves us—this God who could have prevented the death and didn’t.
If Jesus has not been raised, I have nothing to say. Nothing. No one cares if this person leaves a legacy of kindness or brilliance, if their family and friends were all better for knowing the person, or if their research influenced scholars around the world. No one cares. Because the person is gone and we are sad. Deeply, deeply sad. It’s wrong. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. We feel that in our guts, in the tightness behind our eyes, in the weight of sorrow in every breath.
If Christ has not been raised, I have nothing to say. I have no hope to offer. If Christ has not been raised, this whole enterprise that we are involved in—church, university, denominational magazine—is silly. Jesus might have healed, fed, and taught, but none of it matters if we still die. Jesus might have made some people’s lives a little better while he was here and left the rest of us with some good ideas to think about, but if he did not rise from the dead, then who cares? As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot” (The Message).
But that’s not at all the case. Jesus did rise from the dead, and because of that, death loses. Because Jesus rose from the dead, this person we loved will rise too. Death is not the end of that person’s story, and it won’t be the end of ours. That’s the difference the resurrection makes.
Everything—everything—we do as followers of Jesus we do because of the resurrection. The resurrection is the sine qua non of the Christian faith—its foundation, its center, its core. Everything radiates out from this.
It’s the resurrection that makes Jesus different from every other faith leader who has ever existed. It’s the resurrection that makes Christianity different from every other religion that has ever existed. God the Son became human, died, and rose again—and not just to show that he could, but for us. Because we were sentenced to death. We were sentenced to hopeless funerals. We were doomed to eternal loss, sorrow, and despair. Those were the stakes.
But God said no. Because of his great love for us, Jesus took on death, hopelessness, sorrow, and despair and said, “No more.” In Christ’s death and resurrection, all of those things lose. They are all sentenced to an end. They are terminal, and we are not. The resurrection means that we get to live in deep hope that someday Jesus will return with a loud shout and a trumpet call and God will raise the dead again, and he will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4).
The resurrection of Jesus is just the beginning. Thanks be to God.