There’s a lot of Jesuses out there you can choose.
For example, there’s the Jesus on the cover of the sympathy card I received from one of you a year ago.
Jesus is depicted from the rear. His cloak is piled around his ankles falling on the tile of a bathroom floor. Someone- maybe his mother, Mary- is holding his long, dark hair back away from his face. He’s squatting.
You know it’s Jesus even from the rear because you can see his wounded feet tucked under his knees. And his pierced hands are gripping the sides of a toilet bowl with the lid up.
He’s about to hurl.
The speech balloon above Jesus’ head reads: ‘Don’t listen to my followers. I never said my Father won’t give you more than you can handle.’
There’s a lot of Jesuses out there to choose.
I don’t think I realized how many until last year.
At the beginning of Lent last year, I learned I had Mantle Cell Lymphoma, this incredibly rare, aggressive, and incurable cancer. I’ll spare you the grisly, melodramatic details.
Easter is not a day to dwell on me sniffing Death and living again.
Suffice it to say, by this time last year I’d received hundreds of sympathy cards and emails, and I discovered just how many different Jesuses are available to us.
One came to me as a YouTube link to a music video titled ‘Cancer Jesus’ wherein a skinny, bald Jesus who looks either like Sinead O’Connor in the ‘Nothing Compares to You’ video or like a caucasian Fight Club Gandhi.
This Cancer Jesus is wearing a hospital gown and, to an electronica soundtrack, Cancer Jesus gatecrashes a concert and then proceeds to get medieval on a fictitious boy band who, I guess, must symbolically represent cancer.
There’s a lot of Jesuses out there to choose.
One card I received showed Jesus wearing not a crown of thorns but a stocking cap, crucified on two IV poles. ‘Feeling forsaken?’ this Jesus asks. ‘Remember, I’m with you always’ he goes on on the inside of the card.
There’s a lot of Jesuses to pick.
Like the pen and ink Jesus who stood in the middle of a card with sheep on one side of him and goats on the other side and above him were the redacted words from Matthew 25: ‘….I was naked and you clothed me; I was hungry and you fed me; I was in chemo and you gave me medicinal marijuana.’
That card came from a seminary student. An Episcopalian.
When it comes to Jesus, you have a lot of choices available to you- even if you don’t have cancer.
If you want a Jesus who sounds more like a horny boyfriend than a Lord and Savior, you need only tune your radio to 91.9 FM.
If you want a Jesus who sounds more practical and helpful than a Vitamix, you can tune in to Joel Osteen after church this morning.
There’s lots of Jesuses to choose.
If you want a Jesus so good-looking he makes me question my own sexuality, then you just have to wait until August when Paulo from season three of Lost plays Jesus in the remake of Ben-Hur.
Or, if you prefer your Jesus camouflaged in red, white, and blue then you can order the Duck Dynasty Faith Commander Bible (I’m not lying, such a thing exists) from Amazon for the hardcover price of only $21.14.
There’s a lot of Jesuses out there.
There’s even more than one Jesus to choose right there in Matthew’s Gospel.
One of the things we forget in all our Easter piety is that there was always going to be three crucifixions on Good Friday.
There was always going to be a man in the middle named Jesus.
If you were a Jew in Jesus’ day, Rome’s invasion left you with three political options.
If you wanted to hang on to your wealth and status then you could collaborate with the enemy. Think King Herod.
Instead of collaborating, you could spiritualize your faith and use Rome’s oppression as an opportunity to call people to reform and holiness. This was the route taken by the Pharisees.
A third option, popular with the masses, saw the overthrow of Rome as the only faithful option. Those who chose this option were called Zealots, and they pushed for an armed Revolution that would return Israel to the glory it had known under King David.
Depending upon your point of view, the Zealots were either terrorists or freedom fighters.
The real Barabbas was not like the suave, manscaped actor who played him last Sunday in Fox’s The Passion: Live.
The real Barabbas was a Zealot, and the Gospel indicates that he was something of a folk hero to the pilgrims gathered for Passover.
Every year, at Passover, to keep a lid on any Revolutionary fervor, Pilate had two choices. He could crucify some Jewish insurgents just to remind everyone who was in control. Or, he could release a prisoner in order to appease the crowds.
Usually, Pilate chose both.
So Pilate lines them up, side by side, and gives the crowd a choice.
And notice, here it is, according to the Gospel: they’re both named “Jesus.”
They both bear a name which means ‘Savior.’
The one’s last name ‘Bar-abbas’ means (you don’t even have to know Hebrew to figure it) ‘son of the Father.’
The other, not by name but by origin, claims the same identity. To be the Son of the Father, the Son of God, the Father.
In other words both of them are named ‘Jesus, son of the Father.’
They’re both criminals in the eyes of the chief priests.
They’re both opposed to the Powers that be.
They both ignite within their People the hope that one day soon they will be delivered.
Pilate lines them up, side by side. These two Jesuses.
‘Pick one’ Pilate asks.
You get your choice.
Between a Jesus who tells you to return hate with love, or a Jesus who gives you permission to strike back at those who do you evil.
You can choose between a Jesus who says: ‘those who pick up the sword will die by it,’ or a Jesus who invites you to take up arms against the world’s villains.
A Jesus who promises to liberate the poor or a Jesus who becomes poor and invites you to do the same?
Pilate lines them up, side by side. Two different Jesuses.
Pick one, Pilate says.
Jesus Barabbas asks his people to take up arms, to make his country great again.
The other Jesus asks his people to take up their cross and follow.
Matthew says that the chief priests ‘persuaded’ the crowds to choose Barabbas over Jesus.
But you know as well as I do, they didn’t have to try very hard.
The reason we hang crosses on walls is so we don’t lie to ourselves that we’d ever choose a different Jesus than the crowd chose.
Of course, the promise and the threat, the good news and the bone-wracking, bad news of Easter is that we’re not the only ones who make a choice.
Even louder than we can cry crucify him, even before Jesus’ body is cold and buried in the ground, God announces his choice- by splitting rocks into shards, cracking open the graves of the dead, and quaking the earth itself.
God calls forth his entire creation- rocks, graves, tectonics- to witness that this is the Jesus God wants, this is is the savior God chooses.
That’s what resurrection meant for the first Christians: vindication.
Resurrection was about God declaring with the rumbling of the earth and the shock of zombies and a verdict as loud as an empty tomb that this Jesus is the life God intended for us from the very beginning.
For three years, this Jesus had taught a different kind of Kingdom than that other Jesus, a Kingdom where the poor are lifted up, where those who curse us are blessed, where strangers and aliens are welcomed not walled off, where those who have hungered for justice are filled with good things.
A Kingdom where cheeks are turned and enemies are prayed for, where trespasses are forgiven even when the trespassers know exactly what they’re doing.
He preached a Kingdom of mercy not might.
For three years, this Jesus had taught this kind of Kingdom, and on Friday we put all our chips on the kingdoms of this world and we bet on a president called Pilate to have the last word.
But then on the third day, God rocks the earth, pops open the grave and plucks this Jesus up from the dead and says ‘Yeah, my Kingdom is exactly like that.’
And just in case you’re deaf to the shaking of the foundations, God rolls away the stone from the tomb, a stone that bore King Caesar’s image, and God has his angel sit down on top of it.
God’s angel sits his butt right down on King Caesar’s face and says ‘This Jesus, he’s not here, he is risen.’
Don’t miss this. This is everything Easter-
The cross shows Jesus’ commitment to his teaching of the Kingdom. He doesn’t repay evil with evil on his way to Calvary. He turns the other cheek all the way to the cross and, from the cross, he forgives his enemies and even prays for them with his dying breath.
The cross shows Jesus’ commitment to his teaching of the Kingdom and the empty grave shows God’s confirmation of it.
The empty grave shows God’s confirmation of it.
God’s vindication of Jesus.
This Jesus is exactly what the sign above his head says he is: a King.
Of course, the bad news is that a King requires not your opinion but your obedience.
A King demands not to be invited, subjectively, in to your wishy-washy heart.
A King demands your objective loyalty over all other allegiances.
I’m just like you. I’m fully invested in the kingdoms of this world. If it were up to me, I’d choose a different Easter.
I’d prefer to think of Easter as a metaphor for springtime renewal- even though it’s winter in Israel now.
I’d prefer to imagine Easter as story about how our soul lives on after our body dies- even though that’s pagan not scripture.
I’d prefer to dismiss Easter as a primitive superstition- even though resurrection was no easier to swallow for the ancient Christians than it is for us.
If it were up to me, I’d choose a different Easter.
I’d choose to think of Easter as a sign we’ll go to heaven after we die- even though Jews like Jesus didn’t believe in heaven.
I’m just like you. The kingdoms of this world have worked out pretty well for me so, if it were up to me, I’d pick a different sort of Easter.
I’d take tulips and bunnies over tremors and zombies. I’d choose an Easter where my soul flies away into the sweet bye and bye. I wouldn’t choose this quaking invasion by God that shakes loose any excuse I might have not to pick up my cross and follow.
I’d choose anything other than this Easter where God grabs creation by the collar, shakes away our obfuscations, and shouts with an empty grave: ‘What do I have to do to get your attention?! This is the way and the truth and the life I want from you.’
I’m with you.
I’d like to have Easter / and / have my world left alone.
My life is pretty good. Like most of you, I’ve got the right skin color, the right passport, and the right education to make the principalities and powers of this world work for me.
If I were to swap my citizenship to his Kingdom, it would rock my world to rubble.
It would feel like an unnatural disaster.
That’s what St. Paul is getting at when he says ‘If Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile.’
If God has not resurrected this Jesus then we’re off the hook, you can take what Jesus taught or you can leave it. Allegiance not required.
If God has not resurrected this Jesus, then you can put his Kingdom teaching away in to a nice, gilded box and bring it out on Facebook when it suits you.
If God has raised this Jesus from the dead, then we Christians-
We welcome strangers and aliens, we pray for our enemies, we forgive those who trespass against us, we show mercy to those who curse us and show compassion to the poor, we offer grace where it’s not deserved.
We do so not because we have a My Little Pony naiveté about the world, not even because it’s a strategy to make the world a better place. It probably doesn’t work.
But we do it simply because Jesus commanded us.
And God has raised this Jesus from the dead, so he’s not just our teacher.
He’s our Lord and King.
Look, I’m no different than you.
I’m a nice guy. And I need to be needed. You can ask Dennis- they don’t let you become a United Methodist pastor unless you’re fundamentally risk-averse and narcissistic.
I want you to like me, especially you every Sunday types who pay my health insurance.
I wish it was my job to comfort you with any of those other versions of Easter that we’d prefer over this one.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t ordained to serve you. I was ordained to serve this Risen Lord. To herald this Easter announcement.
And just as much as you, I’d like to ignore this Easter. I’d rather choose another Jesus.
But I can’t because this Jesus…he’s alive.
He is. Trust me, after the year I’ve had- I know it.
But I understand. It’s no wonder we put so many Jesuses out there to choose from because the Jesus God chooses- it would shake our world if we took him seriously enough to give him our obedience.
Our loyalty. Our pledge of allegiance.
Maybe (look again) that’s why the angel at the tomb doesn’t bother to tell Caesar’s guards ‘Do not be afraid.’
The angel tells the women with their spices not to be afraid, but the angel doesn’t say ‘do not to be afraid’ to Caesar’s people.
And, let’s be honest, here in 22308, that’s who most of us are in the story: Caesar’s people, people for whom the kingdoms of this world work pretty well.
Maybe for people like us, we should be afraid.
Maybe for people like us Easter shouldn’t be a comfort.
Maybe Easter should afflict us with the right kind of nightmares.
Maybe we should be afraid.
Because God has raised this Jesus from the dead, he’s alive- I know he is- and that means we’ve already learned more of God’s will for our lives then any one of us are willing to do.