Christmas is the biggest secular holiday of the year,
Easter is certainly the most important religious celebration.
Ironically, the festival of Jesus' birth marks a time
of the year when Jesus most certainly was not born,
while Easter commemorates a miracle, the resurrection,
which surely did not happen. So much for religious tradition!
forty-plus years, I faithfully preached the Easter message
every spring, "the most important sermon of every preacher's
year." But toward the end of my career, I have to admit,
I began to fudge a lot. Because it was becoming obvious
to me that the traditional message of Easter - the resuscitation
of Jesus' dead body by a miraculous act of God - was
theological as well as scientific nonsense.
all my years in the pulpit, I never preached - and I
never heard anyone else preach - about the bizarre implications
of this traditional dogma. If Jesus had actually been
raised physically from the dead, the result would have
been either: 1. that he would have had to die a second
time, perhaps of old age; or 2. that his physical
body "was taken up into heaven," according to Luke's
of these scenarios makes any sense, but it is difficult
to see any other option for his departure, given the
traditional story. Dramatic exits are one of the basic
requirements of good theater, and the Bible supplies
one: resurrection and ascension. Very impressive. But
we have to remember that that story is drama, not fact.
It is myth, used for the purpose of creating discipleship.
the very elements of that dramatic exit - resurrection
and ascension - create a trio of problems: 1. the resurrection
leaves Jesus with a physical body; 2. this body must
then be disposed of by means of the ascension; 3. to
believe this, we must ignore what Paul tells us in I
Corinthians 15:50, that flesh and blood cannot inherit
the Kingdom of God. Common sense tells us that it was
not Jesus' physical body which entered a spiritual heaven,
and therefore it could not have been his physical body
which rose on Easter.
where does this leave us on Easter morning, if we are
thinking people? What are we to believe?
problem lies in the fact that the "gospel" itself is
based on a major distortion. The good news is really
about God, not about Jesus. Jesus' message is that the
Kingdom has come, God is in our midst, the time for
religion is past. But those who invented the new religion,
contrary to Jesus' teaching, confused the messenger
with the message. They made Jesus the message, instead
of focusing on God's immanence and unconditional love.
So it was necessary to make Jesus appear to be God,
and that demanded that he not be subject to death. Thus,
the resurrection became a theological necessity.
it is not a necessity at all. What is the basic message
of Easter? That Jesus was still alive on the other side
of death. He didn't need a physical body for this to
be true. When he appeared in spiritual form, in his
etheric body, the religious people of the time, having
a poorly developed eschatology, assumed that they were
seeing him in the flesh. And from there, the dramatic
story was set in motion that Jesus had the godlike power
to rise from death. But all of that was unnecessary.
His message was very basic - "There is life after death,
as I am demonstrating by appearing to you. And, in just
the same way that I am alive, you too will live after
the true Easter message is not about the resuscitation
of a dead body two thousand years ago. It is that we
are eternal spirits who will never die, not because
of a saving act by a long-ago messiah, but because we
are part of God. And that message is universal, not
restricted to those who call themselves Christians.
a footnote, I might say that I have come to believe
that the Shroud of Turin is a truly remarkable gift
from God. It gives us a technical answer to the questions
raised by the foregoing discussion. It seems to suggest
that Jesus' physical body was dematerialized in a burst
of energy, making it impossible for relic-hungry disciples
to worship the bones of the Nazarene for the next two
millennia. After all, the Easter story concerns spiritual
realities, not physical ones. Paul puts it this way:
"What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot
be seen lasts forever. I Cor. 4:18 (TEV)
Posted April 1, 2004
John W. Sloat 2004