Scripture: Matthew 28:-10
A lot has changed in the past 75 years. Seventy five years ago, while the United States was in the midst of the Second World War, duct tape did not exist as a commercial product. A bottle of coke cost five cents, a gallon of gas (which was rationed to three gallons a week) was fifteen cents, and a new car cost an average of $920. One of the most popular movies to come out that year was Casablanca, and the most popular song on the radio was White Christmas by Bing Crosby. There is a lot that has changed since then, but there are some things that have stayed the same. For instance, 75 years ago Batman was very popular, and that is true today. In fact, it might be truer today. One of the keys to Batman’s popularity is that he has been reinvented so many times. The Batman of the original comics is very different from the campy and silly Batman of the 1960’s, which in turn is different from the more serious portrayal in Batman the Animated Series from the 1990s (my favorite version of Batman). But then this version of Batman is different from the more realistic and gritty Batman of the Dark Knight trilogy of movies. Most recently Batman has been reinvented in plastic brick form for the Lego Batman movie.
There are multiple other ways that Batman has been portrayed and been given different spins throughout the 75 years. Often these portrayals of Batman are almost appear as different characters. For instance Adam West’ 1960’s Batman who carries Bat-Shark repellent is worlds different from the gravely-voiced, intense Batman portrayed by Christian Bale. Even though all of these different portrayals of Batman emphasize different aspects of the character, they all share similarities. It does not matter if Batman is a grim and gritty detective or made of Legos, Batman’s origin story is always the same. What led him to be Batman is the tragic murder of his parents, his desire for justice so it never happens again, the choosing of a bat has symbol to strike fear into criminals, and the fact that his only superpower is an intense force of will to make himself the best in the world to accomplish his objective. No matter how Batman is reimaged for a new generation, those elements of what makes Batman, Batman never change. A deep and compelling origin story that resonates deeply with the fans has allowed Batman to span the generations and stay continually relevant.
Over the years different aspects of Batman have been emphasized. In the same way, different theologians and biblical scholars have put a greater emphasis on different aspect of Jesus. Throughout lent we have focused on some of these various aspects. We have looked at how Jesus could be experienced as a healer, understood as a savior, related to as a rebel, and defined as the Lamb of God. Over time, some Christian thinkers and writers have emphasized the humanity with Jesus. They find a point of connection that on Good Friday Jesus suffered and felt pain the way any other person would. There is relational power in the fact that Jesus knows our pain and died our kind of death. Then there have been other Christian thinkers and writers who have emphasized the divinity of Jesus. They find a messiah to worship in the King of kings and the lord of lords sitting at the right hand of the Father in all glory. Whether we emphasize the humanity of Jesus or the divinity of Jesus, whether we frame Jesus as lamb or rebel, there is an unmistakable fact of what makes Jesus, Jesus. Just like Batman’s origin is what defines every iteration of him. There is an aspect of Jesus that defines every understanding of who he is. It is what we are here to celebrate today, it is the fact that Jesus is risen.
If asked to define Christianity in just three words, I think most disciples today would say “Jesus loves you.” However, if we were to ask the original twelve disciples or if we were to ask the first generation of Christians, their response would be “Jesus is risen.” In the gospels, it is the resurrection, not the crucifixion that is the climax of the stories. Since the beginning of Christianity, we have gathered to worship on Sunday because it was on the first day of the week that the resurrection occurred. In the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters when the apostles seek to make a case that Jesus is the messiah, there first point of evidence is always the resurrection. Paul even put forth that the resurrection is the basis and most core belief of the Christian faith. In Romans 10:9 he wrote, “If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The early church saw the resurrection as vital and central to understanding Jesus. The question is why? In the gospels, Jesus raises both the daughter of Jarius and Lazarus from the dead. In the book of Acts both Peter and Paul raise someone from the dead. None of those people are elevated to the Messianic proportions. It is not just the fact that Jesus rose from the dead that makes him special. There is more to it, and that more is found in this morning’s scripture. In verse 6 the angel tells the women, “He is not here, he is risen just as he said.” It is not just that Jesus rose from the dead, it is that he said he was going to do this. The fact that he did this amazing, unbelievable thing after he called it was proof to the early church. Theologian Stanley Grenz wrote, “The New Testament indicates that the early believers viewed the resurrection as God’s confirmation of Jesus’ understanding of himself and his mission. . . as a consequence Jesus’ resurrection stands as the sign of his divine identity.” In the gospels Jesus never shied away from his divine purposes and he did not hide who he is: The messiah that was sent to reconcile the world back to God. For the early church though, for those who lived when Jesus lived, the resurrection and the empty tomb confirmed that what Jesus said was absolute truth.
Jesus is the risen one. It is one of the most central tenants of the Christian faith. For us, John Wesley enshrined it as such in the articles of religion that define the core beliefs of the Methodist movement. In article three he wrote, “Christ did truly rise again from the dead.” Even though it is such a core belief, or perhaps it is such a core belief, it is one that skeptics have sought to discount. In fact this goes all the way back to the beginning. We stopped reading in Matthew at verse 10. If we had continued to verse 15, then we would have read about how the Jewish leaders paid the guards to spread the rumor that the disciples stole the body. Even today, it is not uncommon to find cynics and skeptics who claim that since there is no forensic or non-biased proof of the resurrection, it is likely something that the disciples made up. Another common claim is referred to as the “swoon theory”, which holds that Jesus was not truly dead on the cross but that he simply appeared dead.
Both of these skeptical viewpoints are flawed. For instance, the historical tradition is quite strong that every one of Jesus’ original disciples died for their faith in Jesus as messiah. If Christianity was a lie they made up when they stole the body, why would they die for a lie. Surely if facing certain death or telling the truth and being spared one of them would have caved. The swoon theory also is problematic, because it assumes a very biased view that the ancient people were not sophisticated enough to know the difference between alive and dead. That is quite honestly ridiculous and comes from a place of arrogance in looking at the past. The biblical account, the long standing tradition of the church, a reasoned inquiry, and the collective experiences of the saints throughout the centuries confirm that the resurrection is the truth. Jesus is the risen one.
Since that is true, the final question is what do we do with that truth. Batman is continually reinvented to be relevant to each new generation, so what makes the eternal truth that Jesus is the risen one continually relevant to us today? This is an area where our quest for relevance fails us, because the simple fact of the matter is that Jesus never stopped being relevant. The reason why the resurrection of Jesus was miraculous and needed when it happened is the same reason why it si so miraculous and why we need it today. Jesus is just as relevant to our everyday life as he was seventy five years ago or even forty six years ago. It was then, in 1971, that Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a song that expresses why the resurrection of Jesus is so very relevant to us. They wrote Because He Lives, I can face tomorrow.” We can face tomorrow, because just as the early church believed, the resurrection of Jesus proves that all he said is true. We can claim the promise that God knows our needs, that God hears our prayers, and best of all God is with us. We can face tomorrow because we know that come what may, we know the way, the truth, and the life. We know that because he lives, we can take Jesus at his word: truly he is with us “until the very end of the age.”
The song continues: Because he lives, all fear is gone. Along with making clear that Jesu is risen another constant theme in the bible is that God is a God of justice. Even though God is patient and slow ti anger we do not want to be on the wrong side of God’s judgement. This is a problem for us because as Romans states “all have fallen short of the glory of God.” However, because Jesus is the risen one we can be reconciled to God. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. Jesus defeated sin and death once and for all, so we have nothing to fear; not even fear itself because Jesus conquered that too.
The Gaithers continued the chorus with “because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.” The resurrection is more than just a historical event and a fixed point in time. Jesus rose form the dead, and life won over death forever. In our traditional communion liturgy we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We have a hope that cannot be quelled by the forces of this world because Jesus is risen. We have a joy that cannot be diminished by the grimness of reality because we know that Jesus holds the future, and one day he will return in final victory. We know this is true, because Jesus is not in the tomb. The grave is empty and Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father. I cannot speak for you, but for me knowing that I serve the risen Savior, who has conquered death, who has reunited me with my creator, who suffered on my behalf, and who entrust us to work on his behalf to make the world a more kind and loving place are facts that absolutely make life worth the living. No matter what is happening in my life, I know that he lives, that Jesus Christ is the risen one, and that makes all the difference.
There are a lot of ways to define Jesus. There are a lot of different facets of Jesus that we can relate to. No matter what, the defining way that we understand Jesus should be as risen one. It is because he is risen that he is the messiah, that he is the savior of the world, and that he has enough authority to be the Lord of our lives. As the women did at the end of this morning’s scripture, may we fall at his feet and worship him. May we worship him because he is risen, because he lives.