As one of my atheist friends posted on Facebook today, "Come on, people. Jesus is not a Zombie." He's right. Jesus didn't just come back from the dead. Jesus was transformed by death into something completely new, and his transformation was so powerful that everything else changed along with him. Another friend posted this:
Not to pick a fight, but I'm of the opinion that the Message was more important than the Man. Idolizing the Man is easy. Living the Message is Hard.
Know what? I think my friend is right. The Man was killed that Friday afternoon. The Mesage, the good, Gospel news cannot be killed. And I also agree that idolatry is easier than living that Gospel. If all Jesus' did was replace golden calves with golden crucifixes, then his life and ministry were meaningless. Resurrection calls us to more than just admiration or gratitude. Christ's victory over death calls us to action. Because of that empty tomb, and the Jesus who walked out of it, we can live our lives in fearless love. Once you've stared down death, there's nothing standing between you and the godly creature you were meant to be except your own will.
So what does all that have to do with a Fat Man running? Everything.
I've never died, but I've met people who have. I met a man who was dead for so long that the doctors were sure he could never come out of his coma. Met him before he ran a 3K road race. Cancer taught me a thing or two about resurrection, too. The scarred, toothless creature typing these words has very little left in common with that 400 pound neurotic lying unconscious on an operating table while the lab discovered cancer in his biopsy specimens. As a trainer with LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, I work every day with people who have been transformed by their victory over death. They are tougher, braver, more determined, and more compassionate than they were before cancer. And they share a special burden.
Because we have lived through cancer, and we know so many who have not, we who are left to fight have a unique vocation. We have been called to give hope back to the world. When you're overweight, and you see someone who should be dead pumping out miles on the bike or swimming lap after lap, it tells you that you can do it too. When a woman who has had most of the muscles in her chest removed is grinding her teeth and pumping out bench presses, she it telling you that you can overcome your own obstacles. When a man who knows he is going to die spends his days visiting with cancer patients, giving them an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on, then all of us can believe we can overcome our own pain and do some good in the world with whatever time we have left.
This vocation, this ministry hasn't been given to survivors because we're special. It's just part of what you get when you get your life back. It's hard. And it's the only meaningful purpose for anyone who accepts the gift of resurrection: the invisible miracle of the empty tomb demands that we be about the business of restoring hope to the world.
Cancer didn't kill me. My tomb is empty, too. That's why I run. That's why I fight for other cancer survivors. God didn't give me back my life so i could be the same, miserable, self-absorbed manI was before. Christ is the prototype. Resurrection turned him into a new creation. It can do the same for all of us. And in exchange, we can bring new life, love, and hope to the world around us.
Every runner is an evangelist, whether they want to be or not. People are watching us. Some of them are shrugging their shoulders and thinking, "That's nuts. I could never do that." But others are learning our stories and wondering, "If he can do that, maybe I can do it too." Maybe depression doesn't have to kill me. Maybe divorce isn't the end of the world. Maybe losing my job or my house or my savings doesn't mean my life is over. Maybe there is reason to hope. Maybe I can be a better person than I thought I was.
The Preacher finished his Easter homily with the strangest conclusion I've ever heard to a sermon. He said, "Christ is risen! DEAL with it!" And he's so right. Being a Christian means living as if the tomb is empty: as if YOUR tomb is empty. It means living the message: as if Jesus was right about loving your neighbor and your enemies and your God and yourself. It means knowing that life is a fragile thing, and can be snatched away in the most cruel and senseless ways, and that we need to treat one another accordingly.
It means that the battle against fear and death is one that's worth fighting. If a homeless religious fanatic from Nazareth can beat them, then maybe you can do it too.
If a Fat Man can run, anyone can. You can. Believe it.
Happy Easter, y'all.