The resurrection of Jesus has always been central for Christian faith and identity. Belief in God’s resurrection of Jesus is not an optional extra for Christians. Affirming the central significance of resurrection is one thing. However, allowing the confession “Christ is Risen” to shape our life is another thing altogether. Too often Christians have insisted upon doctrinal assent to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection without ever asking the question, ‘What does a risen Jesus mean for the way we live as Christians in the world today?’
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s shout of “YES!” to the way Jesus lived his life and to what he taught about the in-breaking Reign of God. In other words, the resurrection is God’s approval of the life of Jesus. At his baptism, a voice from the heavens spoke to Jesus saying “This is my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). When God raised Jesus from death God declared that truth and authentic life are to be found in the life and death of this man. The one despised and rejected by his contemporaries found God’s ultimate approval in his life of faithfulness that ended in death by crucifixion. God’s raising of Jesus from death proclaims unambiguously that God approved of the way Jesus lived.
Christian faith in the resurrection of Jesus was, and is born, nurtured and matured in the context of discipleship and mission. Those who believe that God is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are called to participate with the risen Jesus in the continuation of his mission to bring God’s grace and peace to all people.
All four Gospels testify in different ways to the inseparability of resurrection faith and participation in the mission of Jesus in the world. The empty tomb did not transform the lives of Jesus’ frightened followers. It led to confusion, fear and disbelief (see Mark 16:1-8; Matthew 28:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-13). It was when they encountered the risen one for themselves that true resurrection faith was born. Matthew, Luke and John all tell us that when Jesus appeared to his frightened and bewildered followers he commissioned and empowered them to continue his work in the world (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49 and John 20:19-23). Even in Mark’s Gospel (which offers no account of the appearance of the risen Jesus) we read how the disciples are instructed by the young man at the empty tomb to return to Galilee. If the disciples wanted to see the risen Jesus they must return to the place where it all began. They would ‘see’ the risen Jesus only as they joined him in his on-going mission.
Jesus invited men and women to follow him, challenging them to live lives that expressed God’s unrelenting mercy, compassion and justice – regardless of the consequences. Today, this same Jesus, now the risen Lord of the Church, calls us to the same costly but fulfilling way of life. He calls us to live our lives in such a way that we become people in whom others experience God’s grace and love.
Easter is a time for celebrating what God has done for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Because Jesus lived as he lived, died as he died and was raised by God as affirmation of all he stood for, we too have the opportunity to enjoy the relationship with God for which we were created. Easter is a time for reassessing our commitment to being people in whom God’s message of love and hope, the message embodied in Jesus, lives on in a conscious and intentional fashion.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!