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He is risen indeed

| Sunday, March 31, 2002

"He is risen indeed" echoes around the world today as it does across the centuries. It has given people the world 'round the realization that this life, this body, has ultimate value here and now, and the trust that this life is ultimately defined and judged by the next.

And it all hinges on the "bodily resurrection" — historical testimony of God's amazing grace of flesh and blood. Even withered Russian babushkas knew their babies must cling to that one truth amidst Marxist atheism. "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed," as both an event and an experience .

In 1999, I was standing in the ruins of a Roman amphitheater in Durress, Albania, during the Kosovo crisis. The Apostle Paul's protege Titus was martyred there for Jesus' sake in the first century. My wife and I had just been ministering to Christian missionaries caring for Muslim refugees in the midst of the Kosovo disaster. The resurrection was more than some mere myth — then or there.

We're not talking about Isis chopped up and magically reconstituted, either. We're not talking antiseptic, ivory-tower, new-age hocus-pocus, then or now. No, underneath those ruins, in the gladiatorial tunnels and in a small Christian chapel, was a stark sign that in the face of death, "Christ is risen" was the one truth amidst the carnage of blood and guts.

Again, we're talking more than some nice idea or comforting wish. We're talking an event , an experience , a happening . "Bodily" resurrection, the Apostles' Creed proclaims! Never let go of the bodily resurrection, theological giant Karl Barth whispered to T.F. Torrance.

Philosophical skeptics still say, "Hey, that sort of thing can't happen." So they cut out all the miracles and wonders of the Bible, relativize and deconstruct, and skip along their blind, empty, absurd way. Yes, one must weigh the testimony.

Think about it: Isn't it amazing how skeptics today will so easily rely on the "testimony" of some ancient secular documents but not others• British Christian F.F. Bruce's classic "The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?" lists them: Caesar's "Gallic Wars," Tacitus' "Histories" or "Annals," Herodotus or Thucydides all depend on mere handfuls of manuscripts, all hundreds of years, even 1,300 years, after the events.

The New Testament has about 4,000 Greek manuscripts in whole or part, some within decades of the events. How reliable is your memory of the Vietnam War and first-eye accounts written now within decades of those events?

Listen to the reliable testimony:

  • St. Paul lists those who bear witness to the Resurrection in I Corinthians 15 — Peter, the 12 disciples, James and Paul himself on the road to Damascus; even 500 at one time saw this resurrected Jesus.

  • Doubting Thomas in John 20 falls on his face as his hands touched the nail-printed resurrected Jesus. "My Lord and my God!" he whispers.

  • The apostle Peter preaches 50 days later in Jerusalem on Pentecost that "this Jesus of Nazareth, attested by mighty works and wonders which God did through him … you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless ones … this Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses."

  • "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe," St. John adds, affirming that "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name."

    So, what's your testimony this Easter, if I might ask?


    Some days ago I sat in the living room of a friend just returned from an exotic vacation on the other side of the world as a reward for good performance at work. The day he returned to the office, he was let go! What?! Stunned! Go figure! I spoke of the resurrection.

    That same morning I sang two old hymns for the funeral of one of the members of the congregation I serve. I stood over that body in the casket and remembered just days before a sweet handshake with that dear soul. I thought of the resurrection.

    That afternoon I listened to a desperate young wife and mother — pregnant, again — pour out her agony that her husband is messing around, again. And as I found, again, I reflect on the resurrection.

    One the great treasures of being a pastor — a shepherd, literally — of a congregation of special people, is not only in proclaiming of the story but in the cherishing of their stories. Many stories. As the twin towers of our church rise above the South Hills, we seek to be a bright beacon in the dark world. It will be the Easter Story that shapes our story, as we faithfully rest in the tale of the bodily resurrection.


    We believe with all our hearts that it is true — that it really happened, this bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The disciples didn't expect it. They weren't looking for it. But there it was. And yes, here it is still.

    Recently, I watched those new twin towers of light rise above Ground Zero in New York. I realized one of the many reasons America is still standing tall is that the vast majority of us believe in the resurrection. It's how and why we "bounce."

    The resurrection of Jesus celebrated at Easter is that truth grounded in the testimony of the Bible that upholds Christians then and now. Mediated by God's Holy Spirit blowing like a gentle breeze or a great storm, it still touches and transforms.

    It gives us cause to forgive, too, and hang in there.

    A shattering jolt at work when putting one foot in front of the other is resurrection.

    Standing before a coffin and wondering when your time will be up is resurrection.

    And starting over when you said "I do" for forever is about resurrection.

    And on this Easter Sunday that's my testimony, too — for Christ's sake.

    The Rev. John Paul Powell is senior pastor of Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church.

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