How is Jesus alive?
I’ve told this story more than a few times, I’m sure, but I think it bears repeating. Much likes Easter. A few years ago, a young person I know asked me if Jesus was a zombie. The presumption that zombies might be real aside, I asked what made him think that. He said that the story of Jesus’ resurrection reads pretty much like he was a zombie: body was gone from the tomb, he’s seen walking around and he still has the wounds of his death. I assured him that Jesus wasn’t a zombie.
Mercifully, I thought, the conversation ended there. But I’ve come back to it many times since. Every Easter, in fact. How is Jesus alive? Let’s recap the story.
Only days after being welcomed to Jerusalem by adoring crowds, Jesus is suddenly, shockingly, unbelievably, dead, killed in a cruel and humiliating manner. His closest followers are in hiding, fearful for their own lives, grieving the end of their life with Jesus. But it’s not the end. After the sabbath, the women go to the tomb and it’s empty. He’s alive, just as he promised. Mary sees him, not recognizing him at first. The women tell the disciples about the empty tomb, but they only seem to believe when he appears to them. He appears to many and after this Jesus is gone, his followers tell the story and share his teaching – his life – with everyone they can.
The women watched him die and saw him placed in the tomb. For as much as his chosen disciples abandoned him at his arrest, the women seemed to have stayed with him. They see him die. Their experience of the resurrection is anchored in their experience of his death. They’re not the only ones to see him die, of course. The Roman authorities, the Jewish authorities, the crowd that called for his death, they all saw him die. Even his closest followers thought he was dead.
So, how is Jesus alive, then?
I don’t know. I’m okay with admitting that. There are many theories and explanations, I’m sure, but the circumstances of the physical appearance of Jesus simply aren’t central to the meaning of the Easter story for me. Jesus is alive because death isn’t the end of the story.
The power of the resurrection story is that there was death and it wasn’t the end. That bears repeating, just as it is, because by knowing what “was” in the story, we know what “is” in our lives.
In our own lives, we experience hurt, grief and pain. We experience the sudden shock of loss, crushing and dispiriting. We experience moments of “crucifixion.” No matter how others might regard or value them, we know those moments for the feeling we experience.
But that’s not the end.
Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life” – am, not just “was” or “will be” – and offers life in, and after, each of those life challenging and life changing moments. In our own moments of “crucifixion,” we find life rising out of death. Or loss or sorrow or grief or fear. Jesus shows us the way to new life, not just in his death and resurrection, but in his life. Life comes from living as Jesus taught us to live. That bears repeating, too.