The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Jesus is risen!

Jesus is risen!
He is risen indeed!

With this traditional greeting, we Christians will soon begin our celebration of Easter. But we know this was not always so—certainly not on that Sunday 2,000 years ago when Jesus’ friends wondered and worried about the meaning of the empty tomb. Stephen J. Patterson takes us back to those days in his provocative new book, Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus (Fortress Press, 2004; www.fortresspress.org; 800-328-4648). A professor of New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Patterson challenges basic assumptions about how Christians in the West have interpreted Jesus’ death, while emphasizing the importance of Jesus’ life in relation to his death and—most profoundly—to his resurrection. The excerpt below, from pages 103-104, is offered with permission.

“When someone today begins to speak of ‘the resurrection,’ most of us will likely assume that it is Jesus’ resurrection to which the speaker refers, not the resurrection of someone else. True, in the world of the tabloids one might find an occasional rival to the resurrection: an Elvis sighting, the face of the Virgin Mary on the side of a weathered building in Kansas. But it is usually no contest. ‘Jesus is risen!’ is serious religion; ‘Elvis lives!’ is not. This is not just because most of us find it slightly preposterous to elevate a rock-and-roll idol to divine status. Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, even Lou Gehrig could not give Jesus much serious competition today. The resurrection in unequivocally Jesus’ resurrection for us. This is because most of us do not really believe in resurrection from the dead, except, of course, in the case of Jesus. He is in a class by himself. His resurrection is what makes him who he is: the unique, divine Son of God.

“This way of thinking about the resurrection places us in a completely different frame of mind from those ancients who might have heard for the first time the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Ancients, for the most part, had no trouble believing in resurrection per se. It was a common element of most ancient religions, and a fate thought to have been shared by many prophets, martyrs and heroes. King, Ghandi and Gehrig would have been good candidates by ancient standards. Jesus, on the other had, was not. To most who had heard of him, he was not a prophet but a small-time pretender. His death was an execution, not a martyrdom. His life of poverty and his death in disgrace were far from heroic. Not much chance there for a godlike happy ending. Resurrection was not for nobodies.”


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Embracing diversity