I thought I would end my series of Easter week essays with a short personal testimony about what I believe in regards to the significance of Easter. I think I have sufficiently explained “why” in my previous four essays, so this essay will simply provide the “what.”
I believe Jesus was executed because he threatened the precarious power base of the Jewish priesthood in Roman Jerusalem. I believe he was crucified and that he died on the cross. I believe his body was taken down and buried, most likely in a common grave. I believe he stayed buried. I do not believe his dead body came back to life and walked out of a tomb. I think it is possible, though not probable, that his body was stolen or desecrated, thus enhancing later “empty tomb” stories. I believe, however, that this has no bearing whatsoever on the message of Easter or the significance of life as a Christian. The resurrection was about the meaning of Jesus’s life and teachings, not the events surrounding his corpse after his death.
My Christian faith centers around the message and life of Jesus. I believe the meaning of that life was finally and ultimately understood by those followers of his who experienced the resurrection. I believe the resurrection was a spiritual event, not a physical one. I believe it was defined by a powerful spiritual awakening experienced in the wake of his death. I believe, in the midst of grief, the disciples, most probably Peter specifically, began to see the meaning of Jesus’s life in a dramatically new light. The disciples began to understand that death could not contain him. Death could not take the meaning of his message. His life transcended death. I believe his followers came to understand that God was, indeed, met in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe his followers saw that the coming of the kingdom of God was not some future event to be expected. Rather, they understood that the kingdom of God is a spiritual reality within us all, brought forth when we learn to love as Jesus loved, give as Jesus gave, and live and Jesus lived. In the words of John Shelby Spong, Jesus’s followers came to experience love by giving love and experience life by giving life. Thus was born the idea that Jesus “gave his life for us.”
I believe loving wastefully and completely, living fully in each and every moment, practicing selflessness in every situation, and being the very best that I can be is the way that I live as part of God’s kingdom. When I do these things, I experience God in a very real and powerful way.
When I attempt to understand the Gospels as literal histories, describing chronological historical events, they become disjointed, contradictory, counterintuitive, and devoid of valuable spiritual significance.
But when I read the Gospel accounts through the lens of the midrash tradition which defines their creation, it brings new and significant meaning to the stories of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.
Indeed, death did not, does not, and cannot contain him!