There are some who say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proves that Jesus was the Son of God. I don’t know whether it proves anything about the identity of Jesus. But it does prove something about the nature of Jesus. He was, as we Australians unfashionably say, fair dinkum. He was willing to go all the way for what he believed to be his purpose in the world. And, as God, it proves something about God. God’s love is fair dinkum. There can be no doubt, as a result of the resurrection of Jesus, that God so loved his creation, so loves humanity, so loves you and me.
I listened to a woman ring up a talk-back show during this week. She had been ‘studying’ her Bible to find out why Easter did not fall on the same date each year. She had found a connection between the Sabbath and the resurrection, which is next to meaningless except explaining why it was Sunday that the women found the empty tomb. What was interesting was that she rang the radio station to find out the reason, not the representatives in a Christian church.
Conversations on radio and television have indicated two realities. That we are losing more and more the reason for Easter, becoming more and more a celebration of chocolate, and even if we do know the facts concerned with the death and resurrection of Jesus, we seem to be more and more not recognising the significance of the event. Despite 27% of the residents of Greater Geelong describing themselves as Anglican, only 2% of those residents of Belmont are participating in the life of the church. The significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus is not affecting the choices we make for our life.
The result of this ignorance or insignificant response to the death and resurrection has led to those distinctions which appear within our language from time to time. Phrases from within the church like, ‘committed’ Christian as a opposed to being just Christian, sorting out the fair dinkum Christians from the Christians by name only. And from outside the active life of the church comes the description of someone as ‘a religious person’, or a ‘bible basher’, or a ‘holy roller’. It is often from those Christians who are not actively involved in the life of the church that the fear of Islam comes. Not because faithful Islam is anything to be feared, but, I suspect, simply because there is a lack of understanding of what it means to be fair dinkum about faith in a God who is fair dinkum with us.
A remarkable aspect about the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary is that Jesus tells them to gather with the other disciples to tell them about what they had seen and discovered. The resurrection appearance was not for them, as individuals. It was for other to share. It was to be spoken about with others and it became the reason for them being. Their identity as a group was based on the knowledge and experience of the resurrection of Jesus.
Ultimately this means that to be a Christian is not an invitation to be a person, it is an invitation to be a people. It is true that in living out Christian faith we will grow into full maturity and potential as an individual, but such growth is dependent upon the relationships we have with others including a relationship with the living, resurrected Christ. Jesus did not die on the cross and was not raised from the dead to call us to be a person; he calls us to be God’s people.
As a people whose identity is based on the death of Jesus that led to his resurrection; we are called to be people of the resurrection. We are not just individuals who are saved from their sin, restored to relationship with God, we are participants with God in bringing about resurrection in this world. The kingdom of God which Jesus came to bring, is a kingdom which new and different from the usual way our world and society works. It is concerned with bringing about something new – in our own life as the church, and as church in our community. This is why, often, the church enters into the domain of politics challenging what it sees as unfairness that we describe as a failure to be fair dinkum to all.
Admittedly, the church is not perfect. It fails and it sometimes fails appallingly. It has failed appallingly in its past dealings with clergy protection of children and trust relationships. It has failed in its care of its members and its welcome of those searching for God. It has even failed because it has been working so strongly within the political and welfare sphere that it has forgotten to proclaim the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
But this is recognising that in order to be a people of the resurrection, we need to put to death some things in order that we can be raised again, by God.
It is true that going to church does not make any person a Christian, in the same way that going to the garage does not make you a car. But this does not equal that you do not have to go to church to be a Christian. If God is fair dinkum in his love for us through the resurrection, then Jesus Christ deserves to be declared Lord of our lives. And if the Lord of life calls us to be a people and we choose to remain on our own, then we are denying that Jesus Christ is Lord of our life.
The very fact that our society has lost touched with what Easter means and why things are the way they are, that there are parts of the church that make us all uncomfortable with the message they proclaim, that individuals claim their personal revelation is the only truth, all indicates the need we have to be within a people to discern the nature and being of God and the behaviour and choices we make toward one another.
My personal experience and relationship with the risen Christ, tested within the life of God’s people, is proof of the existence of God. Although the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ does not by itself prove the existence of God, it does prove the extent to which Jesus Christ, now risen, is willing to go in order to enable people to have relationship with the heavenly Father. Jesus put his money where his mouth was, he was fair dinkum about his belief in God. The death and resurrection of Jesus demands that we are fair dinkum about our response, too.