What does the expression “game-changer” mean to you? Your team is down three runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but they manage to load the bases, and then … bam! A grand slam. That’s a game changer! Or, they’re ahead by a run in a similar situation, and the other team loads the bases with nobody out. You bring in your bullpen ace, who throws nine consecutive strikes, and shuts down the rally. That’s a game-changer!
Various inventions and discoveries in the course of human history have been game-changers: The discovery of a way of starting a fire and then controlling it—that was a game-changer. The invention of the wheel was a game-changer. The advent of written language—game-changer. The same can be said of the printing press, the incandescent bulb, the internal combustion engine, nuclear fission, and the silicon chip.
Various medical advances have been game-changers: the discovery of the circulatory system, immunization, anesthesia, antibiotics and sulfa drugs, and the heart-lung machine come to mind. The last of those, of course, is what makes open heart surgery possible, and, without it, I probably wouldn’t be standing here at this moment; I’d be a permanent resident of the columbarium. That was a game-changer for me!
And, of course, we all hope that the COVID-19 vaccines will be a game-changer for the world, and that we all get our lives back in some meaningful way.
Without each of these game-changers, a great deal of human effort and labor would be to no avail. Without the COVID vaccines, we wouldn’t be here right now, even in our reduced numbers. We would be at the indefinite mercy of the coronavirus, and would eventually achieve herd immunity the hard way, with several million fatalities in the U.S. alone. Given the multi-dimensional ways my life has already been adversely affected by the pandemic, I shudder to think of that prospect, and I know each of you has suffered in your own unique way as well. With the vaccines, though, it appears that we can look forward to re-engaging our lives and relationships, gradually, over the next several weeks and months. Thank God for the game-changing vaccine!
Speaking of thanking God for game-changers, that’s actually why we’re here right now, isn’t it? The resurrection of Christ is the ultimate game-changer!
If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, Christian faith and practice mean not simply nothing, but less than nothing. This is all foolishness—what we’re doing here now is utter foolishness—and we are worthy of being the butt of every bad joke from every aspiring stand-up comic. Or, as St Paul puts it: “If Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain.”
On the other hand, if Christ is risen from the dead, then it means everything, to the point of being able to say that nothing else means anything in comparison. You may remember Jesus telling the parable of the “pearl of great price,” which, when a man learned about its availability, decided it was worth parting with everything he owned in order to buy the field where he knew the pearl was buried. He staked his life on the existence of that pearl. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is that pearl of great price, and, if true, is worth the sacrifice of everything we hold dear in order to embrace it and live in its glory. The game-changing resurrection shines a light into our personal and family life, it shines a light onto our finances, it illuminates our social and political decisions. It shines a light into the human social order itself. Nothing escapes its glow. Christians who stand in the light of the resurrection have something to say about racism, about human rights, about immigration, about abortion—about everything that challenges the narratives of both “conservatives” and “progressives.” Honestly, the good news of the resurrection will probably make a thoughtful Christian at least a little bit uneasy in any human political party. It so far transcends the categories of secular political discourse that it makes everything we squabble about seem trivial in comparison. The stuff we fight about means nothing beside the reality of what the Church celebrates at Easter.
In other words, it’s not possible for Easter to be “sort of” meaningful, or “mildly” significant. It’s not even possible for it to be “very significant” or even “hugely significant.” It either means everything, completely everything, or it means absolutely nothing. It’s either a game-changer, or it’s trash.
But, we do well to ask ourselves today, do we live our lives this way? Or do we keep our Christian faith at arm’s length, segmented, compartmentalized? The resurrection is so fundamental, so much both the cornerstone and the capstone of our faith, that it’s scarcely possible to consider even the reality of God apart from it. One of my favorite quotes is from the late Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson, who defined God this way: “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having first raised Israel from Egypt.” God is … whoever raised Jesus from the dead.
Now, there’s a ton of evidence in support of literal, historical reality of the resurrection, but that’s a different sermon! I can refer you to some very compelling books on the subject. But the challenge for each of us today is this: Have we allowed the resurrection of Jesus to be a game-changer in every area of our lives? Have we allowed it to mean everything?
Alleluia, and Amen.