Each Easter recently, I’ve returned to a quote from Peter Rollins, a Northern Irish writer and theologian. Perhaps you’ve read this little piece before, but it’s one that has stuck with me, so I hope you won’t mind reading it again.
Here it is:
“Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…
“I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.
“However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”
I love the stark way that Rollins begins, because no matter how many times I hear it, I always want to argue. Rollins says that he denies the resurrection, and I already have my boots on and I’m running out the door to join the fight.
And then, he turns it around. Denying the resurrection isn’t just sitting in your house and saying that Jesus is still dead. Denying the resurrection — denying that the power that raised Jesus from the dead could even exist — is accepting this unjust world as it is.
But if some love powerful enough to raise Jesus from the grave exists — if love really won out over the forces of fear and oppression — then we affirm that truth not by reciting it in a creed, but by embedding it in our lives.
We affirm the resurrection when we stand on the side of life. We affirm the resurrection when we choose love over safety or comfort, when we choose justice over profit or security, when we choose mercy over revenge or judgment.
Easter isn’t just one day in spring. It’s a lifestyle.
Here’s our Scripture reading, from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28:
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them,
“You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
Here’s the question that faces us, as we hear the story of these two sets of storytellers — the temple aristocracy, bribing and conspiring, trying desperately to pretend like resurrection hadn’t happened… and the women, afraid yet filled with joy, going to tell the story of the Risen Lord… do we deny the resurrection, or do we affirm it?
I affirm the resurrection as a physical, literal truth. But, I also affirm with Peter Rollins that the real affirmation of the resurrection isn’t in whether you say you believe it. It’s in what you do about it.
You know, there’s no hint that the temple leadership didn’t believe the story of resurrection. They just chose to live otherwise. They reacted out of fear, trying to clamp down and eliminate the risk.
Conversely, the women who saw the angel at the tomb could have quietly admitted to what they had seen and gone with their lives, without ever living like resurrection was real. They were afraid, yet filled with joy.
Afraid yet filled with joy… I love this image because it’s so easy for me to think that everyone else in Christendom greets resurrection with unmixed and unbridled joy. It’s Easter, right? We’re celebrating new life: new shoots from brown branches, and new lambs being born, and why would you be afraid?
New lambs are cute, sure, but the process isn’t easy for either sheep or shepherd. If you’ve driven home from the hospital with a new baby in the car, then you know exactly what I mean. Afraid, yet filled with joy.
The women were afraid, yet filled with joy, and that joy propelled them into public witness.
Likewise, Friends, the stories we tell can be resurrection stories. Joy is a liberating force — a resurrecting force. It doesn’t run counter to fear, as an antidote… it runs alongside fear.
Joy is what makes fear livable.
So tell me: how is your life telling a resurrection-shaped story?
How are you letting go of fear and leaning into joy?
Julie Rudd is Pastor at Wilmington Friends Meeting, 66 N. Mulberry St.
Weekly columns are provided to the News Journal by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.