Miracles and Mysteries
He Is Risen Indeed
"He is risen!"
Now there's a sentence that gets a varied response -- everything from, "Have you lost your mind?" to "He is risen indeed!" (And isn't it annoying when the pastor thinks the response isn't loud enough and attempts to manufacture joy by putting us through it again?) Our worldview has no place for resurrection so we puzzle over it.
What happened? Hell, I don't know. Historical evidence suggests that something happened on Easter morning. The Apostle Paul claimed the resurrected Jesus "appeared to 500 brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive" (as if to say, "Check it out; see if I'm lying). Unless you posit a huge conspiracy to defraud the public, you'd have to call that historical evidence. Then there is the historical fact that a band of about twelve under-educated disciples started a religion that subverted the Roman Empire and still wields enormous influence today.
Yeah, something happened, and we can call it resurrection, but what was it? How could we possibly know? We have neither the necessary data, nor the scientific knowledge, to make an adequate hypothesis.
I don't know what happened and frankly I don't care.
I'm not willing to found my faith on the shifting sands of the "historical Jesus." What "happened" means far less to me than the story itself -- this story that for thousands of years has shown like a beacon of hope pointing toward a clear and glorious truth: New life emerges from death.
It has always been thus. From the moment of the Great Radiance, or Big Bang, new creation has emerged from previous forms of creation that have passed away. It was necessary for the first batch of stars to explode and die, scattering heavy elements throughout the universe, so that new stars and planetary systems could form, systems possessing the necessary ingredients to produce your life and mine. It was necessary for our evolutionary ancestors to die so that new forms of life, and finally consciousness could emerge.
This creative process unfolds in surprising ways. There is nothing about two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom that would allow you to predict the property of flow. There is nothing about a single cell organism that would allow you to predict language, much less the imagination of William Shakespeare. There is nothing about a human being - Jesus, let's say, or you, or me -- that allows us to predict whatever beautiful thing is next.
But the story of resurrection expresses truth revealed in a believer's heart, revealed by mystery itself: Creation moves from death to life, from beautiful to surprisingly beautiful. This truth gives both life and death its dignity and beauty.
So on Easter morning, if you happen to hear someone say, "He is risen," there is no need to shout with manufactured joy. Rather, with quiet certainty, with the knowledge that derives from faith, whether we know what really happened or not, we may simply reply, "He is risen indeed."
The Rev. Sam Alexander is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael, California. He holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, and an M.Div. from Union Seminary in Virginia. Sam has served congregations in Maryland and in the San Francisco Bay area and serves as an Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics (Preaching) at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He can be found on the web at www.gracecomesfirst.net.