By John Holbert
I was not raised in the church—no Sunday School, no youth camps, no sermons, no Easter trumpeting. Yet, I went to seminary anyway. I will not tell you just why in detail, but it was 1968, and some will remember a very long and terrible war that was raging then, and for us liberal arts types (English/Philosophy in my case), that 4D on the required draft card was somehow better than a one-way trip to Canada. In seminary, I had nothing to unlearn about the givens of the Christian faith, so I just began to swallow it as well as I could. Much of the meal I was given was grand, especially the Hebrew Bible that I chomped on with relish, but the rudiments of Christianity went down rather harder.
Virgin birth was a no-go, but it was even then a difficult pill for my very churchy colleagues. Second coming? Much more interest in the first coming. It was the 60’s, so prophecy and “social action” were in. I spent the fall of that year campaigning hard for Hubert Humphrey, but much to our horror Richard Nixon became the president. You all will know how that turned out.
Resurrection was a rather bigger bite for me. I heard regularly that “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). In an overtly political sense, I could say that Jesus is Lord, so that I could affirm that Caesar, and all the would-be ceasars who followed him, were not. But that raising from the dead thing was beyond me in any historical sense, so I mumbled that part of the creed and got ordained to the ministry. On Easter I focused my attention on Mark’s amazing gospel claims that in the glaring light of the resurrection announcement, “the women left the tomb in fear and trembling, and said nothing to anyone.” Frankly, my dear, my sentiments were with the women.But over the years my love of the Hebrew Bible came in very handy for me, when I at last realized that the announcement of resurrection was in fact a representation of the basic claim of Judaism. God raised Jesus from the dead in the same way that God had raised Israel from the death of Egypt and brought them into the light of God’s promise of land and service to the world. At the last for me, there is no death so dead that God cannot find life in it, and factual history, history that may be falsified by later discoveries, has finally nothing to do with it. In the same way that a poem may be true so is the claim of resurrection true for those who affirm the unfailing and eternal love of the God who sits at the heart of the universe. I am fully aware that such an idea will not do for all of you, but it is more than enough for me this and every Easter. And so, a very happy Easter to all of you as we celebrate again the ultimate claim about our God; love wins again!
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX. He has preached and taught in over 1000 churches in 40 states and 20 countries. Holbert writes a weekly column, Opening the Old Testament, for Patheos and is the author of several books, including his first novel, King Saul, published in 2014.