J ESUS IS ALIVE. Jesus is not over. His story is not over. Jesus still shows up giving life.
In Orthodox depictions of the resurrection, Jesus is never by himself. He is always depicted taking the dead by the hand and pulling them out of their own tombs. That is Jesus still today. As Lauren Daigle sings:
“He’s still rolling stones.”
But the things that are killing us exert a powerful gravity. We sag under the weight of our despair. We are encumbered with racial prejudice. The burden of hate drags us down. Instead of accepting the hand of Jesus, we resist the hand that pulls us upward.
† † †
CHRIST CAME TO SAVE US from our least selves. Christ came to take us by the hand and raise us to new life.
John Calvin said:
“No one can rise again with Christ, if he has not first died with Christ.”
That’s the gift — that’s the challenge — of the resurrection. The first disciples were scattered and shamed by the events of the Passion. Resurrection became perfectly clear when their broken and bewildered community was restored to life.
And so it is for all of us who follow.
† † †
IN 1997, KELLY GISSENDANER arranged for a man to kill her husband. They were arrested. She was convicted of orchestrating her husband’s murder and sentenced to death.
While in prison, Gissendaner had a conversion to Christianity. In theological speak we might say she once was dead but now alive because of Christ. Kelly spoke to other prisoners through an air vent, ministering to them. God used her ministry to prevent some female inmates from committing suicide. Other women she encouraged to turn their lives around. She had a life-giving impact on the lives of other prisoners.
With time approaching for her execution an emissary, on behalf of Pope Francis, urged the Georgia board of pardons and paroles to spare her life. Her clemency application included support from a number of correctional officers that she met while in prison. She was denied being allowed to live. During her execution, she cried, prayed, expressed her regrets to her dead husband’s family and sang “Amazing Grace.”
† † †
ANOTHER STORY. Faith Chapel Presbyterian Church in Lucketts, Virginia, closed in 2015 due to dwindling membership. Faith Chapel was a church with a rural mindset in a community with a large influx of ex-city dwellers looking to get out of the Washington, D.C., area. The two cultures didn’t mesh.
What makes the story of Faith Chapel different is that the congregation decided to keep their property and repurpose the building. Elder Gary Mears moved into the church-owned pastor’s house as a way to demonstrate commitment to, and engagement with, the community. He started a Bible study that met on the front porch every week.
The ministry hired a food truck to sell meals from the empty church’s parking lot. It became a way for neighbors new to the neighborhood to meet one another when they stopped by for lunch.
Gary asked the local school what would be of value to the students. He was told 48 children needed Christmas presents. Gary put a call out on social media and gifts poured in.
The community responded to social media posts for help in the church’s newly opened food pantry.
As a result of being more community-minded, the doors of Faith Chapel opened once again in December for a special Christmas Eve service. One hundred sixty residents attended.
Just last month, the church started holding weekly Sunday morning worship services again. What was dead is now alive.
Gary learned that people often say, “We aren’t into the Jesus thing, but the humanitarian stuff is great.”
“I tell them: ‘This is a Jesus thing, living out our faith, walking the walk.’ ”
† † †
I’M NOT GIVING YOU three things to tell your unchurched friends that will make them believe the Jesus resurrection story is real. I’m challenging you to become that evidence that the dead rise through Jesus Christ.
Resurrection is something we become, something we “prove” through our stories of stones being rolled away. Rowan Williams, retired archbishop of Canterbury, describes it this way:
“Believers’ lives [our lives] are testimonies to the risen-ness of Jesus: We demonstrate that Jesus is not dead by living a life in which Jesus is the center of our lives.”