It's a ridiculous notion. I get it. We're products of modernity, children of the digital age, with endless strands of data available, quite literally, at our fingertips. Biology, chemistry, physics - they all tell us, once dead, always dead.
So when someone mentions the crazy idea that an ancient middle eastern rabbi named Jesus was anything more than a great teacher, we think we know better.
Dead people don't come back to life.
This is fairytale, a strange myth that somehow took on a life of its own.
At its worst, this is all a fabrication woven together centuries ago by institutions that were only interested in exerting power and control over the masses under the bloody guise of religious and spiritual authority.
This all makes perfect logical sense. So yes, maybe it's a sham. Maybe Easter is the saddest day of the year (or funniest, depending on how you look at it) as people all over the world gather to celebrate a farce and remember a moment that never happened.
I'm a pastor by trade. Clergy, according to the IRS. This means that I'm paid a salary to suspend doubt from nine to five, including some special weekend hours; at least, that's what the cynic would say. It certainly means much more than that but I mention it only because it's connected to a confession: I do have my doubts sometimes.
As much as I am a believer, I also carry with me a portion of unbelief. I have these strange mornings, usually the ones after sleepless nights, when existential angst and anxiety hover like shadows cast against darkness. There is no light and yet there they are, hovering still, enveloping me in hushed whispers of skepticism and fear.
What if death really is the end?
What if I've been lied to? What if I'm a liar?
What if this is all headed nowhere?
In the Gospel of Mark, chapter nine, we read a story about a father and his mute son. The son has been possessed by a spirit since childhood; a spirit that's robbed him of his speech and tried to kill him on multiple occasions, by fire and by water, as the narrator tells us. This father loves his son and wants nothing more than healing for him. And so the father brings his son to Jesus. But he does not carry with him confidence and conviction. No. This father carries his broken son to Jesus, saddled with doubt and apprehension.
If you can do anything... please help us, the father says to Jesus.
The father is unsure. He is uncertain and uneasy. Maybe like me, he too is wondering, What if death really is the end? What if I've been lied to? What if I'm a liar? What if this is all headed nowhere?
Then the father speaks the words which have illuminated the darkness and erased the shadows of my own doubt on countless occasions...
I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.
The father believes. But he also doesn't. What a wonderfully true paradox.
What is it that draws out such poignant honesty? The answer is simple enough.
The father loves his son and in his love, desires his son to be made well. It is this desire and this desire alone that breaks the father open, past the religious platitudes of his day, to this place of brutal, contradictory truth.
So now, back to Resurrection. This coming Sunday, countless people around the world will gather to remember and celebrate this ridiculous idea that Jesus died and came back to life. It makes no logical sense (although, it actually does if you dig into it enough; but that's another conversation for another time). And maybe as a smart, savvy, sophisticated modern westerner, you've already categorically removed yourself from this nonsense. You could never believe such a thing. I can certainly understand that.
But I'd like to invite you to something. I'd like to invite you to allow your desire to trump your (un)belief, if even for just a day. Because religious or not, for most of us, our desire is the same. Our desire is that life would go on, that death wouldn't have the last word, that loved ones lost will be embraced again, that our children and grandchildren will continue on into eternity, that we would too right alongside them. Our desire is that this is all headed somewhere.
This is the promise and the hope of Easter.
It's OK if you don't believe it just yet. You just have to desire it. Desire it and see if your unbelief is overcome by something greater. That's been my experience, time and time again.
I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.