As a seminary student struggling to prepare another Easter message, I complained to an experienced friend about the difficulty I was having coming up with a fresh approach. I said, “How many different ways can you say that Jesus rose from the dead?” He responded by saying, “I repeat the same message every year, and I find it harder every year to believe the message myself.”
That conversation made me think. We were talking about one of the two high holy days of the Christian church, but pastors were struggling to come up with new and fresh messages to make the day meaningful. I was struggling because young people were already telling me that the church was boring, and here I was, giving them the same old story they had been hearing since childhood and hoping they would be excited about it. I had to admit that I was getting bored with my own messages.
We have all heard the stories of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection on Sunday morning. The church has done everything under the sun in trying to make the message of new life in Jesus fresh, exciting, and new. Maybe that was the problem.
After my conversation with my pastor friend, I found myself asking, “Do I have to make the Easter story exciting and fun for people?” I concluded that the exciting part is not that Jesus rose from the dead but the implication of the truth that Jesus is alive to me was more important.
This realization gave me a new understanding of stories in the bible. The story of Adam and Eve was no longer about their failure and subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden, but it became the story of the new life of people of God living in communities.
The stories of patriarchs were no longer genealogies of founders, but it became a story of immigration and the impact or trauma experienced by the immigrant community and their subsequent generations. The changes in names and children returning to their homeland to find spouses became the foundation for understanding the sense of isolation felt by generations beyond immigrants themselves. The stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob became important stories of redemption in the diaspora.
The story of Hebrew children leaving Egypt was no longer about 40 years of wandering in the Sinai desert but became a story about people learning how to build a community so everyone could live in equity and justice. Old Testament laws were no longer boring lists of things to do or not to do but became exciting readings on public policy to ensure justice and equity.
The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is often told to children in Sunday School classes as stories to be believed in as historical facts, but we do not teach them how to embody the power of resurrection in our own lives. We too often teach the details of the story but not the ways we can live out the message of Jesus’ restoration.
The important story of Easter is one that has not been written yet. The important story is the one you will write about the ways you have lived out the hope you found in Jesus overcoming death. The good news will be the one that you will tell others about how you found joy amid sorrow as you encountered Jesus in the same way Mary did outside the empty tomb. Others will find out that Jesus is alive as they experience love and compassion as they encounter you.
The real story of Easter is not that Jesus is alive but that he is alive in you.