The story of Easter is usually expressed as the story of a dead man coming back to life. If this is what it is, then the story of Easter is wrong. Easter is not a celebration of a dead man coming back to life. Yes, Jesus died. Yes, Jesus is then later alive. But it is not simply a continuation of the life he had before. It is different. It is more.
An example of this is that the post-resurrection Jesus still bears the marks of his crucifixion (and possibly other wombs from beatings and the scourging) but he does not seem to be suffering from them. He can show them as evidence of who he is, but he is not laboring for breath because his side and his lung was pierced by a sword. He is not doubled over in pain from the extraordinary abuse he had received days before.
There has always been a doubting part of my brain that has spoken to me, even as the faithful part spoke louder. There was always that part that wondered if Jesus were just in a coma for a couple of days and then woke up. But I cannot accept that as a possibility this Easter.
Maybe it took working as a trauma chaplain to see the crucifixion for the traumatic experience it was, and to look at his wounds realistically. Maybe it took being repeatedly confronted with the fact that people who experience that level of physical trauma, as bad as it is in the moment, really begin to feel and experience it two or three days later. People in minor car accidents seem to be fine the day of the accident, but two days later are seized with pain. Jesus was beaten up with fists, beaten all over with a club, was beaten over the head with a club, he was whipped (probably 39 times because people had the habit of dying at 40), he was stabbed in the side with a spear, he was nailed to a cross, then he hung there, working to keep himself straight up so he could breathe. In short, Jesus was traumatized in an epic way!
In this scenario, is it conceivable that Jesus could have slipped into a coma rather than dying. That seems logical since we do not have the experience of dead people coming back to life. Yet, even though this may explain the sort of how he was dead and then was no longer dead aspect of the story, it does not explain how he was no longer dead with no lasting effects from the trauma he experienced, especially when one takes into consideration that he should actually be experiencing it even more — all those wounds would be even more painful (as hard as that is to believe). So, if Jesus were in a coma when he was taken down from the cross and placed into a tomb, when he woke up, there would have been no empty tomb. They would have found him in the tomb — awake and suffering even more than he had been suffering days before, struggling to breath and suffering from shock. He also would have, most likely, died quickly after that from the extent of his wounds, and certainly from infection.
Yet, even if I accept that Jesus died, the resurrection is not as simple as Jesus coming back to life. The reasons that speak to me against the idea of Jesus being in a coma also proves to me that Jesus just did not simply step back into his body and his life. The wounds, though still visible, were (for lack of a better term) healed. This is why I can declare that Easter is not a story about a dead man coming back to life.
Lazarus is a story about a dead man coming back to life. Lazarus acquired an illness and died. Jesus called him out of the tomb and back into life. Yet in this story, Lazarus steps back into his body. The illness that killed him is gone, but he is Lazarus as he had always been and a time came when Lazarus died again. That is a story of a man dying and coming back to life.
In the trauma bay one day, a man died. The doctors and nurses did everything to save him. They opened him up and most of his insides were on the outside as they tried to stabilize him and get him to the operating room. In spite of their efforts, he died. I was asked by the attending physician to say a few words, so I prayed for the man. I went to get the family so that the doctor could tell them what had happened and when I returned, they were working on the man again. The man had come back to life. His insides were still outside and he was still critical, but he had died and then came back. He died again a few hours later in the operating room. Nevertheless, even though the man died again a few hours later, it is a story of a man dying and coming back to life.
This is not what Jesus does. Jesus does not die and come back to life. Jesus dies and then un-dies — he un-dies in such a way that he is even more alive than he had ever been. He does not simply step back into his old body and old life, but his body is somehow transformed into something new. This is why we declare “Jesus is alive!” and not “Jesus has come back to life!”
Jesus is alive! Jesus is alive in a way that no one had yet experienced, and has yet to experience. Jesus died and then un-died — he was neither resuscitated, nor did he just wake up from death. He became alive in a new and dynamic way that included who he was, but also made him so much more.
Hatred and fear and jealousy and self-interest and selfishness and greed (and a host of other emotions that most of us experience every day) put Jesus on the cross; but it was love that raised him from the dead. It was love that made him alive. Love is the anti-death. It is love that makes one alive. It is love that restores life. It is love that grants new life. It is love that undoes death because death may kill a body, but death cannot kill love — for God is love and love, like God, is eternal.
Part of the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has shown us the power of love. The good news is that eternal life is a life of eternal love. The good news is that we do not have to wait to die to experience eternal life, but we can experience it here and now by focusing on love — for God is love; therefore, if we focus on love, we focus on God.
So I guess all that was to say this: This Easter when I declare “He is alive!” I will also declare “I am alive!” I will center my thoughts on the idea that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is not just a hope that I will be restored to life after I die, but it is a promise that I have that new, resurrected, eternal life right now! That life is found in love. Love does not just make life nicer. Love makes life possible.
I am alive with Christ, joined together in love, which is eternal life that undoes death and makes all things new.