As I get older, sometimes I wonder if the idea of Easter really is crazy. It’s tough to admit, but the thought crosses my mind periodically.
What if the idea that some guy died 2,000 years ago, rose from the dead, and now lives in me… is ludicrous?
What if believing that he wandered around in the desert, told a bunch of good stories, and got a whole bunch of people to believe that he could somehow save them from their destructive tendencies and their bent towards evil, and then got himself killed on a cross…is just a little far-fetched?
What if it’s folklore? What if the story of Jesus just got passed on over the years because it was a good campfire story, the story of this poor guy who thought he was saving the world but really, he was just a fool who was loved by many?
What if he was just a teacher of love, a humble leader showing how we should treat others, but then that’s where it ended?
What if it’s just a myth we tell ourselves so we don’t have to believe this is all there is? This horribly broken and beautiful world, filled with the kind of evil that makes your skin crawl but also the most amazing, breathtaking things.
What if that yearning we all have deep in our souls to leave a legacy, to make a difference, to keep on living is just a hormone imbalance, something that makes us achingly and merely human? And that’s it. Once our bodies die, we die with them.
If I sit in that doubt, I can faintly hear the question echo in my mind, “What if I’m wrong?”
What if the entire thing just makes a fool out of me?
One of my favorite stories in the bible is when Jesus finally does come back from the dead. The disciples find the empty tomb. He appears one at a time to those He loved: Mary Magdalene, then to his disciples, then of course to his beloved, doubting Thomas.
Then he reappears (John 21) to the disciples as they’re fishing off the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and two other disciples (apparently not worthy of naming) were in a boat some distance from shore. Jesus stood on the beach and called out to them: “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
I picture him smiling, amused and full of affection. (Maybe He had a dimple as he smiled? I just see him having at least one dimple). These men had already seen him a week prior, and they had been completely overjoyed to see him. But duty called, and they had to get back to work. There they sit in a fishing boat, head in their hands, miserably trying to catch some fish. Back to the daily grind.
They couldn’t see that it was Jesus from offshore, so they answered, “Nope.” They probably didn’t even look his direction.
Jesus called, “Throw your net on the right side of the net and you will find some.”
The Bible said they did as he asked, but I wonder if they rolled their eyes at each other first. Who did this guy on the shore thing he was? They shrugged. Might as well try it. So they slung their net the other way, and they couldn’t even hold all the fish they caught in their net. I am sure that’s when they suspected Jesus was paying them a visit.
My favorite part is this very next bit. When they rowed back to shore with their fish, they saw a fire of burning coals with a fish on it, and a loaf of bread (a nod to my little brother Kelly here! We all know the secret to life is sharing bread with others!). Jesus tells them to bring some of the fish they had caught, and they proceeded to share a filling meal with this friends. I see him with a wide smile, so glad to be back with his friends, his arms wide and gesturing: “Join me for breakfast!”
Who doesn’t love a meal around a campfire with friends? I wish I could see it. Or better yet, I wish I could have been there on that beach with them.
Something about this part gives me so much joy. And it sheds light onto my question, which suddenly does a flip. What if I’m wrong?
But what if I’m right??
What if Jesus’ life gives us so much meaning and depth to our own lives? What if His command to love our neighbors as ourselves really is the answer to this jacked up world filled with war and bombs and abuse and starvation?
What if Jesus’ call to humility and community and kindness is really the simplicity we need to get back to in our relationships, our marriages, our families, our communities? What if He really does join us in the work of relationships and life, guiding us and coaxing us along, encouraging us not to give up?
What if Jesus really was God on earth, a God who loved us enough to encapsulate His omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent (all the omni’s!) self into the broken shell of a man? What if He experienced dirty feet and bruises and lonely tears and a broken heart simply so He could know what it felt like to be us? So He could save us from ourselves?
And what if in doing that, He knew what it felt like to be anxious and depressed? To be stressed and pissed off? To be frustrated with people he loved, to be fearful of the future, to want hope?
What if He experienced the darkest, loneliest night of the soul as He was led to the cross and hung up on the wood? What if He experienced a darkness that we, thank God, would never have to experience again?
My life before Jesus was just like those disciples sitting in that boat. I was in stagnant water with an empty net and no clue how to proceed. I was waiting for something to happen, and I wasn’t even sure who I was because the world itself sure had a heck of a lot of opinions for my fourteen-year old self. Sure, I had some ideas based on that: happiness, success, money, a great body, a perfect life, and in general, the American dream.
But then I discovered Jesus, and I saw my part in His story immediately. I felt a part of a bigger whole. I had hope that there was a lot more to this life, and the love I stored up and shared and spread around really did bring light to dark places. I found hope in death. I found meaning, even in hard times. I found light in all the things He encourages for us: sharing, loving, accepting, and working.
For many, following Jesus feels or looks like just a set of rules. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, give your stuff away, be good enough, be shiny enough, be committed enough. But based on this story in John, I don’t think that’s what He was really going for.
I think He simply asks us to try a new way (sling your net on the other side). Think of others instead of just yourself. Consider you were created on purpose and for a reason: to bless the world. He asks us to join Him for breakfast, to catch a glimpse of what He’s up to in the world. We can come as we are: dirty, messy, tired from work, a little bit confused, but hungry. He knows we’re always hungry. So He asks us to join Him in prayer, in His life’s work, in love, and in breaking bread.
That sounds really kind of wonderful.
I don’t know. Sometimes I think maybe I’m wrong.
But then I look back and see the tangible evidence of His love, and I see how it changes everything. And just like those disciples who saw Jesus come back from the dead, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
– 1 Corinthians 12
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20