Bible scholar N. T. Wright says the early Christians quickly came to understand Jesus' resurrection in terms of the Jewish belief that the living God was one day going to solve the problem of Israel's exile and oppression, ending evil and injustice in the whole world. That's what it means to say the resurrection took place “in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3): it was the fulfillment of this prophetic promise.
Belief in the resurrection was a belief about something that actually happened within this real world, not simply a belief about a transcendent dimension, a spiritual or otherworldly reality that leaves this world behind. And the continuing message of the resurrection is not about life after death, but about life after faith.
The message of Jesus' resurrection is that this created world matters and that God has bridged the heavenly realm into this present world with healing life and all-conquering love. It's why we pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” Resurrection is not about some comfortable afterlife, a great fairway in the sky, but about God having dealt with evil, and being now at work by God's own Spirit, to do for us and the whole world what God did for Jesus' body on that first Easter. – Sara Webb Phillips
Where the women in Matthew together glimpsed the risen Jesus on the way, and where the women in Luke together interpreted Jesus' teachings, [in John] Mary hears her name called by Jesus himself, and is then able to go to the other disciples and proclaim, “I have seen the Lord” (v 18). – Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke
“The Resurrection of Jesus unlocks the door of hope and makes every kind of change possible. That's why Christians and religious people have often been the first ones to walk through the door of hope. Because to walk through that door of hope, first you have to see it. And then you have to believe that there is something on the other side of the door ….
History tells us again and again that we can't move from one reality to another without cost. It's never easy. It's not without pain or suffering … . We can't imagine ourselves different than we are today or healed of that which binds and afflicts us. We can't imagine ourselves forgiven … . But when we walk through that door of hope, and we look back at where we have been and where we are now, we see evidence of the grace of God.” [Jim Wallis, “Easter Sermon,” Sojourners (April 1998), 21–23]. – Sara Webb Phillips
Cornelius will be the first gentile convert, and Peter the first apostle to convert a gentile in Luke's narrative. Yet in this exchange Peter is converted as well. In a vision he comes to understand that God shows no partiality and that Peter can associate even with gentiles. – Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
This passage from the Epistles is chock full of important words about the Resurrection: “Christ has been raised from the dead… the first fruits… all die in Adam… all will be made alive in Christ…” Christ’s dominion… destroying death itself. Given the presence of Christmas-Easter attendees, it might be tempting to use this sermon as a lesson in Christian theology.
Better yet, find a way to say what rising from the dead is like for those whose lives have been given a second, third, and seventy-seventh chance. Speak of hope as a reality. Tell the stories of ashes turned to good fruit. They are all around us just as the Risen One is moving in and through our midst.
Sara Webb Phillips is a United Methodist minister serving North Springs UMC in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke is pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Wilmette, Illinois, and the President of The Liturgical Conference.
Homily Service 40, no. 5 (2007): 43-54.