This is a word of encouragement that I preached on Sunday, 3/12/22, at the memorial service for longtime Berkeley Friends Church member Peter Brewer. The scripture reading for this message was: 1 Corinthians 15:12-26. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken message differs from the written text.)
When I first became a Christian, the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead was very hard for me to accept. I remember the first Easter Sunday service that I attended as an adult. Everyone was saying the traditional Easter call and response: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
I found myself looking around at these church people, not quite able to believe what they were saying. These were sophisticated, educated folks. Teachers, doctors, professionals. All of them proclaiming from the top of their lungs that a man who was put to death and lay in the grave for three days was miraculously brought back to life.
Did they really believe this, or were they pretending? Were they saying these words because they were expected to, or had they actually seen evidence of the resurrection for themselves? I couldn’t be sure.
I wrestled with this for some time. I considered myself a Christian. I loved Jesus and wanted to follow him. But I had a tough time incorporating this central claim of Christianity into my mental model of the world. This claim, the bodily resurrection of Jesus: I wouldn’t have believed such a story if any other group had made it. So why should I accept the testimony of the church?
Eventually, I got the evidence I needed. Like the disciple Thomas, who refused to believe in the resurrection until he was given proof, Jesus has shown up for me. Maybe he has shown up for you, too. In whatever way this has been revealed to you, we can say, “We are witnesses to his resurrection.”
But I’m guessing that some of us here haven’t been convinced. We haven’t seen the evidence we need to really believe, down in our bones, that God has raised Jesus from the dead.
For those of us who are in that situation, I want to encourage you as a former skeptic. Our faith in the resurrection is not blind. It is based on evidence, in a real relationship with this risen Jesus. We testify to these things because they are true and have been borne out in our own experience.
We also testify to these things because of what they mean for each one of us, how much God loves us.
You see, even though I have come to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, I still have a tough time accepting that God would actually raise me from the dead. Resurrection is one thing for Jesus. But me? That’s something else.
I’m hesitant to speak about this, because – I don’t know about you – talk about the afterlife has always sounded like self-interested wish-fulfillment to me. Speaking about the afterlife at funerals, in particular, sounds suspiciously like whistling in the dark. Do we say these things because they are true, or just because we wish they were true? I hate wishful thinking. I believe we should say and believe things because they are true, not because they are what people want to hear.
But there’s no getting around it. In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul draws a straight line from the resurrection of Jesus to the resurrection of all who believe. This is a continuation of Jesus’ own words, who said that in God, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive. The God we serve is the God not of the dead, but of the living. When we participate in the life and character of God, we are alive in him. Death has lost its sting. We are raised up together with Christ.
What does all this mean? Simply this: Peter Brewer is alive in Christ. Though he has died, God is raising him into new life in the image of Jesus. There is a resurrection for him. There is a resurrection for us.
We have seen and can testify to the resurrection of Jesus. We don’t say this out of facile religious piety, but with full conviction, as those who have asked hard questions and have been given evidence.
And scripture teaches us that Jesus’ resurrection is just the beginning. It is the first fruits of the resurrection of all who trust in God. It is the reconciliation of all things, the restoration of the good earth and harmonious cosmos that God created in the beginning. In the resurrection, we discover that death is swallowed up in God’s life.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. And as we stand together in God’s love, nothing can separate us from each other, whether in life or death.
Peter Brewer is not lost to us. Together with Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, he is alive in the resurrection. Gathered in Christ’s spirit, we will always be together.