Many years ago; I believe it was in “Lichtenrade,” a suburb of Berlin, I had a religious discussion with a young man in his late 20’s. At the end of our visit, as we were leaving, he pointed to a crucifix hanging above his door and said “there is your loving God.” The implication was harsh and the intended meaning was clear. Christ had died on the cross. What I told that young man then I share with all today; the Jesus that I know is very much alive!
At this Easter season I would like to share with those that I consider my friends, my feelings about Easter.
I have been told that I believe in a different Jesus. I find that claim somewhat puzzling. There is only one Jesus, born of Mary in a Bethlehem stable. The scripture tells us that Mary was “carried away in the spirit,” (although I really don’t know exactly what that means) and thus became with child. Joseph, her betrothed, was naturally hurt and wanted to “put her away privately.” In this time of what must have been utter heartbreak for him, an angel appeared to Joseph and instructed him that he should take Mary to wife. Scripture then tells us that he “knew her not” until after Jesus was born. I do believe, that as a result of the virgin birth, her being “carried away in the spirit”, that Jesus was literally the Son of God in both spirit and flesh. That, as the story unfolds, is very important.
The Jesus that I believe in started this life as a baby. Like all of us he grew and learned precept upon precept. Unlike the rest of us, he never sinned. I don’t think that means that Jesus never made a mistake as a child rather, I think it means that he never willfully did something that he had been taught or felt was wrong. At the age of four or five he would have gone to school with other Jewish boys his age. They would have learned about Leviticus and blood sacrifice. I wonder, did he begin to understand at that tender age what a portentous meaning sacrifice had for him? By the age of twelve he was teaching in the temple and it would seem that he knew who and what he was. That is the same age that tradition would have had him begin to accompany Joseph to the temple to make the obligatory sacrifice during the Passover. I wonder, what did he think and feel as he watched the blood run down the altar of the temple knowing that it was in similitude of his own future? I cannot imagine.
At the beginning of his ministry when he announced in Nazareth that he was the Messiah, his neighbors exclaimed “is this not the carpenter’s son?” This leads me to believe that he had labored hard and would have been a strong and weathered man. The scripture says that there was nothing about him that “man would him desire.” Perhaps he was not that handsome; yet Publius Lentullus described him to the Roman Senate as “a man of stature somewhat tall, and comely, with a very reverent countenance.” Contrary to what some in modern times would suppose, he was described as having chestnut colored hair, rather long, with a thick beard which forked in the middle. His face was red (from the middle eastern sun I would suppose.) His eyes were described as grey. Nevertheless he was Jewish and not a Scandinavian model as some modern day artists prefer to paint him.
It was this man, who at the age of thirty began his ministry. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded his years of service for us. They tell of Jesus calling his disciples and later ordaining them as special witnesses, as Apostles. They tell of miraculous healings, of the lame walking and the blind seeing. Of lepers who were cleansed and of casting out devils. They tell of a man, the Son of God, who devoted himself to us. He said that the Law given to Moses was fulfilled in him and he gave us a revised spiritual law not based on outward ordinances but rather on love of God and love of our neighbor. Not a law that required the sacrifice of animals but a law that requires us to sacrifice the animal within us.
Of the many miracles that he performed, the most miraculous of all was his raising Lazarus from the dead. He had brought the dead back to life before, but Lazarus was different. This was not done in secret but for all to see. Like the cursing of the fig tree, it was done to show us that as God’s only begotten in the flesh, Jesus, who would become the Christ, had power over life and death. He raised Lazarus openly to show us that he had the power to lay his life down and to take it up again.
At the end of his ministry he went to the Garden of Gethsemane. There while his friends slept, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, began the process whereupon he would take the sins of the world unto himself. More telling though is that in some miraculous way, this act was personal, for each of us. He paid not just for all sin, but for my sins. After a night of torment the likes of which I cannot even imagine, a night in which he sweat great drops of blood, Judas Iscariot betrayed him to the Sanhedrin who took and bound him. Voluntarily, The Son of God allowed himself to be taken and abused by vile and wicked men. He was questioned, flogged, scourged and ultimately hung upon a cross with large spikes driven through his hands, wrist and feet and then, for the next six hours, left to hang for all to see. Finally, having paid for the sins of the world, it is recorded that Christ uttered the words “It is finished” and “Father, unto thee I commend my soul.” It was then, having drank the bitter cup given him by the Father that He willingly gave up his life. Jesus’ spirit left his body and as all who went before him and as all that came or will come after, Jesus of Nazareth died.
It is here that the Easter story begins. At the end of the Jewish Sabbath, Mary and others returned to the tomb where they had quickly laid him not yet fully cared for. Upon searching for the Lord they discovered an empty tomb and heavenly beings with the message that Jesus, like Lazarus, had risen. While the others returned quickly to tell the disciples, Mary Magdalene lingered. As she wept, the resurrected Christ engaged her. At first, not recognizing him she inquired where they had laid her master. The utterance of her name by the now resurrected Christ brought about instant recognition. The woman Mary thus became the first witness, the first person to see and speak with the resurrected Lord, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. What a special relationship Mary must have had with him that he appeared to her first even before ascending to the Father.
It is then recorded that that the resurrected Christ appeared to many during the next days and weeks. He accompanied two disciples on the road to Emmaus and stopped and brake bread with them. He appeared to Peter, James and John as they were fishing. He appeared suddenly to the Apostles on two separate occasions as they sat behind locked doors. Finally, it is recorded that several hundred, watched him ascend into heaven. Again heavenly messengers were there to proclaim that as they saw him leave, so would he return. The resurrected Christ, his spirit reunited with the body from the tomb, the body that was marked in the hands and the feet with the scars of his triumph, a body that was no longer mortal but eternal and perfected, ascended into heaven.
Others saw him at later times. Stephen, as he was being stoned, had the heavens open and reveal the Christ sitting on the right side of the Father. Jesus appeared to Paul, on the road to Damascus and Paul became as the twelve, a witness of the Christ.
In the Book of Acts, Jesus said: “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold. Them too must I visit and they will hear my voice and know …” One possible fulfillment of this statement is found in The Book of Mormon. It is there recorded that at the time of Christ’s crucifixion in Jerusalem that there were mighty earthquakes and floods in the new world which caused the entire face of the land to be changed. Sometime later, as the people were gathered together to marvel at the changes that had occurred, Christ appeared unto them, taught them, healed their sick, blessed their little children and prayed for them. There were at the time about 2000 souls who saw and bare record.
Christ alluded to other groups of righteous people that he would visit. Might there have been more? Are there possibly other undiscovered records that tell of his visits and ministrations? I do not know. What I do know is that these marvelous personal visitations seemed to have stopped. Why? Is it because Christ pulled away from man or, more likely, did man pull away from him? Certainly it was not because we no longer needed him. I firmly believe that the resurrected Christ is still there and continues to visit those who are clean and pure before him. I also believe that there are men alive today, who like the Apostles of old, testify of him. For those of us who still struggle, he offers the comfort of his spirit and the strength derived from his atonement to help us in times of need.
For me, as it seems to have been with Lazarus and Christ, the resurrection is a physical reuniting of the spirit with the body. For Christ and those who come after, the resurrected body was perfected and immortal.
This understanding of the resurrection is important to me. I can’t imagine life without the physical senses. As I contemplate the times in my life that I felt true, peaceful joy, I remember things like the smell of my babies as I snuggled their neck, the wind in my hair on a crisp autumn day, the smell of a passing thunder storm, a song sung with beautiful harmony, the touch of the soft underbelly of the stupid cat that allows me to share its house. So many of the true joys that I have experienced in life have been associated with the senses. What would life be without them? I think it would be very miserable.
Last week at a church outing they were playing a game of kick ball. As I sat and watched a past memory floated up from feelings stored years ago. I remembered the joy of kicking the ball with all the power of a twenty five year old man in his prime and the exhilaration of running bases and taunting the other team in friendly rivalry. I briefly remembered a young body that yearned to move and experience the wonders of life. I looked at the chain link backstop and had a fleeting memory of what it was like to jump and climb to the top. These memories felt of nostalgia and loss. Those days of youthful arrogance and physical confidence are gone for me now. I used to love to ski and still do on rare occasions but it is different. I find a nice, well-groomed intermediate run and concentrate on making pretty, controlled, old-man turns for just an hour, maybe two. Gone now is the charge down the hill taking 6 foot drops in a spray of snowy white curtains. Gone is the adrenaline rush of days past. (Sometimes I think that the gift of the resurrection is not appreciated by the young.)
Now in my sixties, the knowledge that I too will die is a constant companion and I can see a time yet a little way in the future where it might even become a welcomed friend. What joy the knowledge of the gift of resurrection, amply attested to by a myriad of witnesses, gives me. Because of Christ, I have the assurance that I too will live again!
But concomitant with the resurrection is the glory of atonement and redemption from the fall.
Yes, there is only one Jesus born of Mary in a Bethlehem stable. There is only one Christ, but while we may understand Jesus a bit differently I too feel a yearning for that day in which I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. Like you, I too will confess that He is the Christ, God’s Almighty Son that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way. You see, as I told that young man in Berlin so many years ago, the Jesus that I know is very much alive.