Back in the early 70s, Jesus was big on Broadway. Jesus Christ Superstar andGodspell were both controversial and engaging tellings of the Jesus story that grabbed America’s attention. Suddenly everyone was talking about Jesus. But Tom Key noticed something: the popular stories left out the resurrection.
Picking up on the Southern paraphrase of Matthew’s gospel by Clarence Jordan, Key wrote The Cotton Patch Gospel, a musical in which Jesus gets in trouble in Georgia for trying to integrate the church and is ultimately lynched by a KKK mob outside of Atlanta.
But Jesus doesn’t stay dead. The resurrection is the last act–an interruption of human hatred that leaves the beloved community singing “Jubilation.” It’s a great story.
I’ve been thinking of Key and Jordan this Easter, partly because Jesus is in again this year. Heaven is For Real sold $22.5 million in tickets at the box office on Easter weekend. The Duck Dynasty clan has had one book or another on the NYT best-seller list for over a year.
But again, something is missing.
None of the Jesus stories that are getting air time bring to life the essential point that Clarence Jordan made so well:
The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers and sisters with him.
The problem isn’t that there’s nothing good in Heaven is for Real. It just isn’t the good news of the resurrection of Jesus.
But we desperately need the story of a Jesus who is risen and comes home with us, making a new kind of community possible here and now.
Why isn’t that the story everyone is talking about this Easter? Maybe it’s because we’ve set our security systems and locked our doors to the risen Christ. As big as the news is, resurrection is threatening. It challenges the way things are.
But I’ve seen how people’s eyes light up when they hear a resurrection story. Since publishing Strangers at My Door, I’ve spent the last few months telling the best resurrection stories I know. And I’ve listened as people come alive, telling me their own stories.
I’ve gotten notes from scores of people who’ve written to say thanks because these are the stories that give them hope and remind them what the gospel is really about.
So why aren’t these the stories people think of when they hear ‘Jesus’ and ‘Easter’? Maybe it’s because we’ve forgotten that we have the power to change the story.
The folks who told the resurrection story after the first Easter didn’t have the mainstream media on their side. In spite of government persecution and cultural scorn, they whispered the one story that gave them hope from one home to the next. And it wasn’t long before everyone knew the story (whether they were willing to believe it or not).
Over and again through the history of the Jesus Movement, regular people like you and me have changed the story, reminding the world what God was really up to, raising Jesus from the dead.