The Punctuation of the Resurrection
Fr. George Smiga
April 8, 2012
John 20: 1-9
Christianity stands or falls on the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. We believe that by the power of God, Jesus was raised bodily from the dead. If you take this belief away, Christianity is no longer Christianity. It may still be a wonderful collection of moral teachings. There will still be a long tradition of holy men and women who show us how to live. But without the truth of the resurrection, there is no gospel, there is no good news.
The resurrection reveals something to us about God. It gives us one clear instance when the power of God and the goodness of God were so real that death was reversed and a new kind of life emerged. If we believe in a God who gave that new life to Jesus, we also believe in a God who give that life to us. So the crucial question is how do we respond to the proclamation of the young man in today’s gospel. He says to the women, “Jesus has been raised.” Do we believe him or not?
Or to put this in another way, what kind of punctuation mark would we place after this young man’s words? He says, “Jesus has been raised.” Would we follow that with a period? A period is a mark that indicates that a thought is finished, and it is time to move on to another. A period, then is not a very encouraging punctuation. After the proclamation of Easter, it says: “Yes, yes, Jesus has been raised. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. Whatever. It happened a long time ago. I know the story—the empty tomb, the spices, the women. Yada yada. But, I have things to do. I have meals to prepare, homework to finish, work to complete, plans to make. So, it is time to leave such resurrection thoughts behind and move onto something more pressing”. There is not much promise, when we follow the Easter proclamation with a period.
It’s much better to use a question mark. Jesus has been raised – question mark? The question mark gives us permission to challenge the proclamation. We do not have to be polite as long as we are honest. “Do you really mean to say that someone who is dead for three days has been raised up? Have you looked at the world around you, in all of its injustice, in all of its greed and selfishness? How can you ask me to believe in a loving and powerful God? What signs can you produce to show that God is real and that God is active? The question mark is better than the period because it at least values the proclamation enough to argue with it. And, if we argue, if we doubt, we engage with what has been proclaimed. Then in time it is possible that our question mark might become a comma.
Jesus has been raised . . .comma. Jesus has been raised, and therefore it may be possible that God is real and that God has not forgotten me. Jesus has been raised (comma) and therefore, even if I have lost my spouse, even if I am unemployed, even if I flunked a test or I have just been diagnosed with cancer, even then, I might still have reason for hope. Because, if Jesus has been raised, then there is a God who has a power that is greater than any evil I can experience.
Jesus has been raised (comma) and therefore it is possible that all my blessings: the love of my family, my talents, my achievements, all that I have is only a hint, only a shadow of what God intends to give me in the coming kingdom. A comma is a good way to punctuate the announcement of Easter because it gives space for us to see our own lives as connected to the proclamation. It allows us to believe that if God raised Jesus up, God will raise us up as well.
The Easter proclamation has been made, but how do you hear it? Choose your punctuation carefully, because the correct punctuation can change your life. If we accept a God who, in truth, raised Jesus from the dead, then we can live our lives believing that joy can bloom from the soil of sadness, that hope can rise from the dust of despair, that life can spring from dead things and flourish. That is the gospel. That is our faith. It is an astounding way to live.
Jesus has been raised – exclamation point!