“He is risen,” proclaimed a banner attached to the tail of a small airplane circling the skies over my head. “He is risen,” affirmed the billboard on the lawn of one downtown church as thousands of worships streamed into churches across the city. “He is risen,” shouted one pastor to his dancing flock, as I listened by a window to the joyous gospel choir echoing these words back to him.
“He is risen,” said the elderly black man standing in front of the Olive Branch Church on Main Street.
“Yes,” I replied sincerely as I made room for him on the sidewalk, “he is risen,” adding in what I hoped was an inaudible whisper, “but am I?”
Today is Easter Sunday, Christianity’s chief holy day, and I am walking through town and out to the river beyond it to sing my own praises to God. I am not a Christian and church holds little interest for me, but the question of my own resurrection does.
For Christians what matters this Easter is that Jesus is risen, for me what matters is whether I am risen—risen from the dead, from the past, from the old, from the safe, from the conventional, from the conditioned, from the known, from the tomb of my own convictions, story, and self.
For Christians the resurrected Jesus is the point, for me he is the pointer. “Follow me,” Jesus said. I take that literally. Jesus took the best of his Judaism, the love of God and neighbor (to which I would add love the stranger as well), lifted both out of the narrowness of tribalism, priestly purity, self-righteous piety, and religiously sanctioned jingoism, and pointed toward a religion of no-religion. I follow him as best I can: loving God, neighbor, and stranger beyond the boundaries of doctrine, creed, and tribe. For me, “He is risen” means that his message continues to slip free from the death grip of those who seek to strangle his message by turning the iconoclast into an icon.
“He is risen.” I visited the tomb of Jesus last November, and as I stood for a few moments inside that empty cave I felt the power of this 1st century Galilean Jew who defied both priests and politicians in the name of justice and compassion. In a world going mad with messianic fever, he preached the simple Torah of Hillel: do not do to others what you would not want others to do unto you. In a world where the simple faith of Abraham had become the property of priests and lawyers, he preached the prophetic call to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. I could never be a Christian, but I hope, given what I know of Jesus and the early Jewish radicals who followed him, I would have been a hasid, a disciple, of Jesus.
Our world is not unlike his world. Mad prophets manipulate people with fear. Would-be Caesars vie for power in the name of God. Church and state are the two pockets of corporate elites preaching a zero-sum game of have and ever more indebted have–nots. The pious proclaim, “He is risen,” and are then herded back into the tomb of their lives where fear rather than hope is the foundation of faith.
Yes, he is risen, but we are not.