Resurrecting Resurrection

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

This Week at Plymouth, April 5, 2024

Every time [Jesus] came to his friends they became stronger, wiser, kinder, more daring. Every time he came to them, they became more like him.

—Barbara Brown Taylor

In the first few years of my return to church, I was reluctant to tell some of my friends and colleagues. Several of them had told me stories of spiritual abuse, religious bullying, and familial rejection instigated by fundamentalist pastors that they were still navigating and processing. I was worried that admitting that I was going back into the world of religion would be seen as a betrayal. I also feared becoming overzealous in trying to defend my search for meaning in a church, fielding questions about the unbelievable things in the Bible, like resurrection. It was that kind of religious zealotry that drove me away from church in the first place. Thankfully, none of my friends reacted this way. On the contrary, they were uniformly supportive. Why did I assume that faith had to be a source of division, separation, or estrangement from those who love me? Why isn’t something like the resurrection good news?

If resurrection is foundational to the Christian story, we wouldn’t know it by how the faithful engage with the broader world. We hear more often about the crucifixion, testimonies about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for humanity, than about God’s promise of life. The cross has become a ubiquitous fixture both culturally and religiously, and it is not uncommon to see someone who is not a practicing member of any religious collectivity sporting a necklace with a cross on it. But what about the resurrection? Because of the resurrection, everything has changed, and all things are new because death did not have the last word. But how many of us approach our faith, the world, and our friends shaped, inspired, and influenced by resurrection? Does that resurrection faith show up in how we act, love, serve, or treat our neighbor?

In her look at the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples and followers in the Gospel stories, scholar and author Barbara Brown Taylor talks about the impact of resurrection on their lives and practices. Those who encountered the risen Jesus “became stronger, wiser, kinder, more daring.” For the biblical witnesses, resurrection became an effect, a practice, a confession, an experience that the world could see. Perhaps my fear of faith early on was a realization that resurrection faith had been far too muted in the church’s witness. Religious debates about Scripture, sexuality, sex and gender, and religious observances are loudly and endlessly rehearsed and argued, serving to divide the faithful and disinvite the seekers. Perhaps it’s time to show the world what resurrection means. How could God’s decisive act of vindication in the resurrection, a powerful assurance that God is faithful and just to bring life, not make us stronger, wiser, kinder, and more daring? I think it can if we let it.