More than A Nice Thought

Now if it is proclaimed that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Cor. 15:12-20).

From 1984 to 2004 William Willimon served as Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. In an article written years ago for Leadership Journal, Willimon recalled a particular Easter sermon in which he sought to make it clear that Christians do not speak of resurrection as a symbol or metaphor.

Easter is not about “the flower budding in springtime or the butterfly emerging from the cocoon.” Willimon suggested that such images, while nice, are more akin to pagan ideas that don’t have anything to do with the Christian celebration of Easter. Easter, Willimon insisted, is about a dead man that got up and started walking around again.

After the service, as Dr. Willimon shook hands at the chapel doors, one student said to him, “I want to thank you for saying exactly what it is I don’t believe.”        

Willimon recalled the moment fondly. The true meaning of Easter had been proclaimed clearly, and he appreciated the student’s honest response to that proclamation.

Do We Know Better?

Today I want to ask you about your response.

Is there anything in you that hesitates when the creed says that “on the third day he rose again from the dead?” Do you secretly struggle with those closing words that affirm our faith in the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting?”

I’ll confess that sometimes I wonder if, among the many people who eagerly attend (or watch) a service of worship on Easter morning, there are some who politely listen to the story without believing a word of it. After all, this is the 21st century. We are an advanced society, possessing an understanding of things that the ancients simply could not comprehend. Science must be taken seriously, which usually means that all talk of resurrection becomes metaphor. Dead people don’t get up and walk around. (Right?)

Sure, Jesus is alive – but he’s alive in the memory of those who love and follow him. He lives in their acts of love and service to our neighbors and those in need.

I like the sound of that. But it’s not Christianity.

An Old Question

What I’m describing here is really not new at all.

In the church the apostle Paul had established in the city of Corinth there were professing Christians, members of the church, who said the same kind of thing. What is clear to us from Paul’s letter to them (we call it 1 Corinthians) is that some of them were saying there is no resurrection of the dead.

Paul was baffled. The cross and resurrection had been at the heart of his message to them. It was a matter of first importance (15:1). And yet some of them were dismissing the resurrection. Seems the sophisticates in the city of Corinth weren’t too different from the sophisticates in New York or Chicago.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul confronts this head-on.

Your Homework

Take some time this week and read 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 and 35-44.

We’ll take a closer look at Paul’s words later in the week – but for today, linger with what we affirm when we speak the words of the creed.

We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Is that a confident affirmation for you? Or maybe a hopeful expression, or a nice thought? What do you make of the resurrection of the body?


Gracious God – we confess that the is much about the resurrection that we cannot fully grasp. It is a mystery, but a mystery which we confidently embrace. Help us to speak with bold trust in the truth of resurrection life. And let us live this day in the strong hope of that truth, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Why Did Jesus Weep?

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes (Luke 19:41-42).

Take a moment and picture Jesus in your mind.

Seriously. Before you read any further pause just long enough to get a clear mental image of the countenance of Jesus.

As that image comes into focus, answer this question: In your picture of Jesus, is he smiling?

Nearly a year ago I was listening to a podcast from Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon where John Mark Comer serves as lead pastor. He opened his teaching that day by leading the congregation in that exercise. His point (and mine) was that for many people their image of Jesus tends to be very serious, almost somber.

We seem to equate a pious soul with a pensive face. Because we have such high regard for his holiness, we don’t easily picture him as a joyful man who delighted in people and savored life. Such serious images of Jesus are misguided at best, completely false at worst.

No one was more joyful than Jesus.

A Joyful Man

Remember, this is a man who ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:16). When we read this statement in the gospels, let’s not imagine that Jesus politely forced himself to endure the company of a bunch of people he could hardly stand, like an Ohio State fan seated right in the middle of the Penn State student section. We are not told, but what the Pharisees and teachers of the law witnessed that offended them wasn’t simply that Jesus sat at the sinners’ table. He was enjoying it. Laughing, talking, swapping stories.     

In Matthew 11 Jesus comments on the criticism aimed at him for the way he relished life. He points out that John the baptizer was a very disciplined man who “came neither eating nor drinking.” But John was slandered as having a demon. Jesus – the son of Man – “came eating and drinking” and he was called a glutton and a drunkard.

Of course, Jesus taught some serious and difficult things, his own impending suffering and death at the top of the list. But we make a mistake if we only see Jesus grim-faced. Isaiah’s messianic prophecy spoke of a “man of sorrows acquainted with grief.” But that’s not the entirety of who Jesus was. Jesus surely embodied what Paul described as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10).

What Will Bring Us Peace?

As joyful as Jesus was, we have to pause when we read Luke’s account of his entry into Jerusalem – an event often spoken of as the “Triumphal Entry.” Luke’s description of the event doesn’t show us a triumphant Jesus. Luke alone tells us that as Jesus approached the city, surrounded by a crowd of disciples singing Psalm 118, he wept.

We don’t see him pumping his fist the air, throwing the high-fives to anyone he could reach from his perch on the colt. What we see instead is his tears, his heartache at the dark days ahead for the city of Jerusalem. The long story of God reaching out to his people and meeting their stubborn rejection had continued until that moment when Jesus entered the city. Their hope of peace was now hidden from the eyes.

Why did Jesus, a joyful life-loving man, weep over Jerusalem? He wept because they didn’t know what would bring them peace. They had so long refused to see it that now they were blind to it.

Not as the World Gives   

In a world that is void of peace, Jesus intends that his followers have peace. Peace is not the absence of trouble or hardship. Peace is not synonymous with a pleasant or undisturbed life.

During this week that would lead to his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus promised his followers the gift of his peace. The kind of peace he possesses and only he can give. This peace is not the kind of peace the world gives (Jn. 14:27). The world’s peace is what we have when everyone is getting along, when we have healthy bodies and healthy bank accounts, and when all of our plans are unfolding exactly as we dreamed.    

All of those things can be lost. The world’s peace, as nice as it is, is a fragile thing. 

Jesus gives us something different. Jesus gives us peace that abides undiminished when the world seems to be falling apart, when nothing is going according to plan, when evil is loosed. Paul called it a peace that transcends all understanding. A peace that will stand guard over your thoughts and emotions, keeping them anchored in Jesus (Phil 4:7).

On this Thursday of Holy Week – Maundy Thursday – this kind of peace can be yours. Jesus wants you to have it. And the events of this night and the day to follow, arrest and abuse and crucifixion – this is what makes that kind of peace possible.

Is there something in your life today that has robbed you of peace? Imagine that circumstance unchanged and imagine yourself living through it completely at peace.

Of course, pray for the circumstance to change. That’s a good prayer.

But pray as fervently for the peace Jesus gives. That just might be even better.      


In these final days of your life, Lord Jesus, you faced a world as violent as our own. And you have called us to follow you in this world as people who know a deep peace. Grant that peace to us in these days, we pray. Guard us from anger and fear, empowering us by your Spirit to love one another just as you have loved us. Amen.