The Resurrection is the central and abiding moment in world history. That’s right, I didn’t say “Christian history,” I said “world history.” The whole world separates history as either before the life of Jesus or after His birth. As for the Resurrection, C.S. Lewis noted, “either the Resurrection didn’t happen and is therefore meaningless, or it did happen and it is the most meaningful, important fact in the world.” Either the Christian hope of resurrection for all of us is supported and real, or we are part of the greatest con job of all time.
In His risen state, Jesus the Christ was seen by over 500 people. We just read several accounts by some of those witnesses according to St. John. Did you notice how individualized those passages are? Did you notice how Jesus gave each witness just what he or she needed in those moments? Grace is personal. It reaches each person in distinct and personal ways. It touches the most intimate places in our hearts.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to prepare a dead body for its permanent rest. She brought oils and spices for the job. She had witnessed the Crucifixion and knew without a doubt that Jesus was dead. She would need convincing that death was not the end. So her certainty was met with clear sights and evidence — angels in the tomb who spoke to her, Jesus in His risen form who shared with her by name. The proof was clear. Jesus the Christ had risen from the dead!
Then there are the disciples. There are only 11 of them left. Judas — a trusted member of their band — had betrayed Jesus and committed suicide. Jesus Himself had been crucified as an enemy of the state, and even His own Jewish officials had been in on the findings that sent Him to the Cross. They too needed proof that His horrible death was not the end. Jesus gave them persona and overwhelming proof; He had them examine His wounds, and then He breathed upon them the presence of the Holy Spirit, and they believed.
Then there is Thomas. Thomas was missing that day in the Upper Room. He too needed proof. Jesus let Thomas touch His wounds and discover for himself that His risen body had physical form and being. Jesus was alive! The Resurrection was real!
And the resurrection was personal; it had already touched the lives of these friends of Jesus in the first few hours after the event itself. The news, the proof of Jesus’ Resurrection, reached out to many more people over the next 40 days as He walked the earth in His risen body. And the Resurrection has continued to touch people, one at a time and in crowds, right up until this day.
The Resurrection is God’s greatest gift of grace. Through His death and rising from death, Jesus the Christ erases all the penalties associated with human sinning — my sins, your sins, our sins are wiped clean. None of them matter against the victorious grace provided in Crucifixion and Resurrection. It really is the greatest event in history; always was, always will be.
But saying it that way makes the Resurrection seem too much to handle; we can’t get our arms around it. It’s too big. Thankfully, the Resurrection is also personal. When someone becomes a Christian, their personal story is woven in with Christ’s story in a perfectly individualized and unrepeatable way.
Let me tell you a story. I’m an average person. You’ve all seen me around this church and accepted me as one of you — just a guy at Trinity. But I have also battled with deep depression all my life. For years, I went to counselors, I took medications, I worked relentlessly to “get better.” I reasoned that, as a born-again believer, I should experience the personal victory of life without depression. But that day never came.
My depression stole huge chunks of my life from me. It played a big part in the ending of my first marriage, it kept me isolated and lonely, and it played a major role in me being fired or let go in some fashion from over a dozen jobs. I even lost my career in the Methodist ministry because I couldn’t deal with the anxieties and loneliness of my life.
Let me tell you folks, the Church was no help to me in my trials. For 19 years I did my best to be a good pastor, but the minute I was out of the pulpit it was like I had never existed. The Church didn’t know what to do with me or what to do for me. The Church hasn’t entirely developed ways of coping with mental illness. I mean, after all, isn’t a confession of depression something like the opposite of a confession of faith?
Well, I went back to work looking for a solution to my depression. I learned that I was not “merely” depressed but that I have a severe case of bipolar disorder. I learned that my anxiety readings were literally off the chart. I learned that I have something called avoidant personality disorder — a powerful handicap that makes one extremely adverse to social situations, to the point that one generally has very negative feelings, no self-confidence in dealings with others. This condition makes a person extremely anxious and generally negative, particularly regarding oneself. It deeply affects the ability to make friends and connect to others. And here I had been fighting it all my life without ever having heard of the condition.
I’m still fighting it. Every day. Now that we know I am bipolar, I am on medications that help. I pray. I have faith. I wish I could say that I have faith that God will heal me of my conditions, but that’s not where my faith lies. My faith lies in this — Jesus didn’t just die to save the world, He died to save me, Chris Weitzel. His grace is personal. I know this because I have felt God with me; I have been touched by the hand of Heaven.
Mental illness is tough. We don’t talk about it. Not even as the Church. I guess we don’t want to stir it up and make it something even more real and powerful than it already is. The Church doesn’t know how to affect a theology of mental illness, and, to tell the truth, neither do I.
I only know one thing: some people would say I’ve lived in Hell. I wouldn’t say that. Some people would say — and have said — that if I am not cured of my illness it must be because I carry unforgiven sin. I know that if my sins are unforgiven, I cannot become a citizen of Heaven. But I also know this: even if I go to Hell, Hell can’t hurt me; it can’t break what I have. I have the Good News of the Resurrection in my heart. It’s personal to me. I have been touched by grace.
And, friends, grace wins. That’s what the Resurrection proves! Life wins over death. Mercy wins over sin. Grace wins over everything that is lacking or broken or depressed. Grace IS personal, and it comes for you and it comes for me. Resurrection is personal when its story — the greatest story ever told — connects with our stories.
I know one thing: I know in whom I have believed! Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One, stands beside me. Grace wins, and on this Easter I proclaim that Christ IS alive! And I am alive because He lives. Glory to God, Alleluia! Amen.