Ministerial Musings: Still I Rise

Theories abound about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. There are some who claim that it never happened. “People do not rise from the dead today,” they say, “So I doubt that it actually happened in Jerusalem two millennia ago.”

Others claim that it occurred in the experience of the disciples. Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, proponents of this theory claim, but he did live in the communal experience of the disciples after his death.

And then there are those ol’ stalwart traditionalists like me who believe that it really did happen as it is chronicled in the Gospels.

I remember being at a clergy meeting once. I was sitting in a room with about a dozen colleagues from my denomination;  the meeting was during Lent.

We talked about the foci of our Easter homilies. One of the pastors observed, “It is a hard sermon to preach. How many different ways can you talk about the resurrection?” I nodded in agreement.

Then he looked around the room and said, “Besides, I have several parishioners who actually believe in the resurrection.”  Many of the other pastors in the room smiled. Some laughed.

I thought I had just entered The Twilight Zone. I looked for Rod Serling to come walking into the room, smoking his trademark cigarette, and saying, “Picture if you will a minister who suddenly finds himself in an alternative universe, one in which everything he believes is no longer true…”

I felt so out of touch with reality. I did not understand how someone could preach the Word and think that it is only words.

Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians rang in my soul: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain,” (1 Cor. 15:12-14).

This meeting occurred several years ago. I was just starting out as an ordained pastor, serving my first parish in a small, rural New Hampshire town. A dozen years of experience have taught me that people experience Christ in various ways.  People embrace diverse theologies to express those beliefs. I respect that immensely. I do. Very little in The Bible or Christian theology can be discerned in strict black-and-white terms. There is a lot of gray in there.

That said, I still embrace the belief that regardless of what may be conjecture in Scripture — added by later redactors to bolster specific theological or political agendas — I still hold the resurrection as both a deeply sacred and an accurate historical event. It lies at the core of my faith. I could not continue doing what I do if I rejected the empty tomb.

What are your beliefs? What is the resurrection all about? How does it inform your faith? What does it tell you about God?

As you journey through the last half of Lent, confront those beliefs. Allow God to speak to them. You may be surprised — as surprised as the women — at what you find!

The Rev. Dr. John Tamilio II, Ph.D., is the Senior Minister at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Tremont. He lives in Lakewood with his wife and their three children.

John III Tamilio

John Tamilio III is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, an accomplished guitarist, and a nationally published author. His first book of poetry, Blind Painting, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Letters in 2003. He and his wife, Susan, live in Lakewood, Ohio with their children: Sarah, “Jay” (John IV), and Thomas.

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 10:26 PM, 04.05.2011