As believers we certainly have our differences. We can and may question and debate points of doctrine, biblical interpretation, morality, and mission—and still find ourselves firmly within the household of faith.
But we may never deny the actually-happened, literally historical reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead. It is the heart of the gospel and of our faith. The apostle Paul drives it home: if Jesus has not risen, then we are pitiable chumps who have bet our lives and our souls’ salvation on a horrible sham (1 Cor. 15:12-19).
But Paul assures us that Christ has risen, flesh and blood—really. CNN would have caught it on tape if it had existed back then.
John Updike, in his poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” poignantly warns that if Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then “the church will fall.” He’s right. Not only would the church fall, it would deserve to fall, and the sooner the better. Despite all the nice things churches might provide—community, social interaction, inspiration, love—it would all be without foundation, based precariously on empty hot air. The church, any church, would then just be a parasite with no life of its own, drowning us in pious, feel-good fraud.
When my family and I lived in Grand Rapids, Mich., our neighbor across the street served as a pastor in a large Protestant denomination that doesn’t always witness to this Good News. I asked her if she believed that Jesus actually walked out of the grave and left real footprints in the dust. She could only say, “I believe God could bring new life. . . .” That’s as far as she could take it.
While on vacation in San Francisco one Easter morning, my spouse and I attended a large, prominent church from that same denomination. The service included top-notch talent, a fabulous choir, and even a fascinating interview with the chief of police. But first-class as it was, during the entire two-hour service they managed not to mention Jesus’ resurrection even once.
But the heart of the church is the proclamation of that very Good News. In all the many words read, said, sung, prayed, and confessed, this must always be our joyous cry: Christ is risen! That lends us solid hope through even our most bitter tears:
we are no longer in our sins (see 1 Cor. 15:20ff.); we are forgiven by God;
death is “swallowed up in victory” and even our final enemy cannot separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 8:39);
the miracle is real: we shall live forever (John 11:25), even when we die;
the new life in the Spirit that has already sprung up in us is not just a phantom; it’s real and it transforms our very being (John 15:5);
it’s a living Savior and Lord who befriends us, not just the memory of some dead hero (John 15:15).
Let this be the connecting tissue that joins true believers from every nation, tribe, and denomination into the one, true, apostolic church: the simple, joyous confession that “our Lord is risen indeed.”