The Resurrection – What We Tell Our Children Matters
Easter Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Mark 16: 1 -8. Focus on why what we tell our children matters concerning the bodily resurrection. Check out the choir following the sermon.
Randy Alcorn’s blog asks a very profound question: Why is the Resurrection Important?
In the late 1990s, a group of scholars assembled to evaluate whether Jesus actually said the things attributed to him by the Gospel writers. The red-letter words of Jesus. They employed what can only be described as remarkably subjective criteria in their evaluation of Scripture, and the members of the “Jesus Seminar” were widely quoted by the media as the authorities on the Christian faith.
Marcus Borg, one of the leaders of the Jesus Seminar, said this of Christ’s resurrection: “As a child, I took it for granted that Easter meant that Jesus literally rose from the dead. I now see Easter very differently. For me, it is irrelevant whether or not the tomb was empty. Whether Easter involved something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant.”1
As a child, Borg was right. As an adult speaking on behalf of Christianity – he couldn’t be more wrong. What Borg calls irrelevant – the physical resurrection of Christ’s body – the apostle Paul considered absolutely essential to the Christian faith.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… (and) we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Cor. 15:13-14, 16-17, 19)
He’s right. There is no way I could conduct a funeral service unless I believed in the resurrection. Without it there is no hope. To me life would be meaningless and absurd. Without it why shouldn’t I pursue my self-interest at all cost? Without it there is no reason to hold love as our highest value.
Can I prove the resurrection to you? Can I make you believe? I have no idea? But I agree with C.S. Lewis, when he says, “Either Jesus was a lunatic and a liar or he was who he says he was – The Son of God. You have to choose.” Two thousand years of history and followers would testify to its reality in my humble opinion, but more importantly are the people it affects, especially our children.
The psalmist describes the task at hand quite well. “Listen, O my people, to my instruction; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will utter sayings of old, which our fathers and (mothers) have told us. We will not conceal them from (our) children, but will tell to the coming generations the glorious deeds of the Lord and the wonders he has wrought.” (Psalm 78: 1, 3 – 4)
And the reason we do this isn’t because we have to convince them to believe in anything we merely have to affirm what God has already instilled within them. Children understand things like, faith, hope, love, and heaven on an intuitive level. And our children are much more in tune with realities such as the resurrection than many of us as adults. Maybe that’s why Jesus said, “Unless you become as children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 3)
Last year a little girl, in our congregation, lost her Dad and a mother lost her son. Looking forward to a family reunion that day this little girl and her grandmother were getting breakfast ready and they called to the little girl’s Dad to come and join them for breakfast. The father young, in his forties, didn’t respond.
The mother and paramedics worked desperately to revive the little girl’s father and to the best of their ability they protected her from what was happening but she saw her Dad leave the house on a stretcher. And after working desperately to bring him back to life, the father was finally pronounced dead at the hospital.
You can imagine the shock and disbelief that follows something like this. You can understand why the scriptures describe the death of God’s Son by saying that the temple curtain, the curtain that represents God’s heart, was torn from top to bottom a curtain protecting all that God, a mother and daughter hold intimately dear and sacred. And at a moment like that the only words that make sense are the Lord’s “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
As the family prepared to break the news to her they called me and I reached out to a lot of colleagues, and pastoral counselors for their advice. A lot of it was helpful and practical. Things like: Keep it simple. Ask her if she has any questions. Answer her questions and see how she responds were some of the suggestions. But no one mentioned how to talk about heaven or the resurrection with her. Maybe the subject wouldn’t come up so we continued to pray for God to guide us as we prepared to speak with this little four year old about her father’s death.
Finally we are ready to talk with the little girl and I’m invited by the family to be part of the conversation, which is a huge honor but also scary because you realize that what you say will have an unforgettable and lasting impact on her life.
So her Mom, Grandma, cousins and close friends of the little girl all came and we met in our church’s nursery. She brought her favorite stuffed animal and after a time of play and nervous settling in we brought her to sit with us and I asked her if she knew why we were all here? She was shy to the question but knew something was up and it was something that she didn’t want to deal with. But in time and with gentle questioning we asked her if she knew what happened to her Daddy? She shook her head yes!
And this is why little people know and are aware about far more than we often realize. As adults we knew that her Dad had not made it, but we were not sure if she knew it as her Dad was being worked on when the paramedics arrived at the house that morning.
But she nodded her head yes and I asked her to tell me what happened. And she said, “My Daddy died.” And I asked her if she knew what that meant, thinking maybe that she didn’t really know what death was, but she knew and she said to me: “My Daddy’s in heaven.” Wow! You are so right I said! And then she said that her Daddy had come to her in a dream and she said that he was watching over her.
This little girl didn’t have any formal training in the Bible. But this four year old knew on a fundamental, intuitive level the truth that Christians have been proclaiming for nearly 2000 years. And at that moment I realized we don’t have to sell the resurrection to anybody. All we have to do is listen, pay attention and give witness to the reality that our story proclaims.
Why does this matter? Because the resurrection isn’t some intellectual or philosophical proposition – It doesn’t matter how well you can debate the pros and cons of it. It is after all a story. But a story unlike any other that if you choose to follow will not only guide your life but will transform it.
Joshua put it this way to his contemporaries who stood ready to enter the Promised Land after wandering about for 40 years in the wilderness – “Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my ancestors we will follow the Lord.
The Lord who was crucified dead and buried and on the third day was raised from the dead. Today God plays the trump card on everything that death entails, failure, destruction, sorrow, pain and crying and says to us that life eternally shall prevail. Amen
- Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998), 129-31.