Holy Punctuation Marks

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Most people agree on the basic facts of Jesus’ life. 

He lived in Judea during the opening decades of the first century.  He became known as a prophet, teacher, and miracle-worker.  He died on a cross by order of a Roman procurator.

There’s not nearly as much consensus, however, about what happened next.  Did Jesus rise from the dead?  Or is the idea that he is still alive nothing more than (as one of my friends puts it) a “fig newton of someone’s imagination”?

For more than a few people, it comes down to punctuation.  Which punctuation mark best describes the claim that Jesus’ tomb was empty?

The original disciples were apparently convinced, following his crucifixion, that Jesus’ life had ended in a period

End of sentence, end of story.  Even Yogi Berra, famous for declaring, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” would have said, “Trust me, this one is definitely over.” There’s no evidence that the first visitors to Jesus’ fresh grave expected to find a living person.

Maybe the real story is best told with a question mark, since the Easter accounts brim with questions.  The man who at first appears to be the cemetery groundskeeper asks, “Who are you looking for?” Angels ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  To this day a great many people experience religion as a series of interesting but ultimately unanswerable questions.

The disciples, however, begin to hedge.  The period at the end of their sentence gradually morphs into three dots, which is known as an ellipsis.   It follows words and phrases like: “However…” “On the other hand…” and the always-popular “Hmm…”

The disciples begin to entertain the possibility that maybe the story of Jesus isn’t over after all.

For many people, the preferred punctuation for Easter has become quotation marks.

It’s currently fashionable to use “quote marks” to signal that we don’t intend to be taken literally, but that we wish to speak tongue in cheek, “if you know what I mean.”   Thus moviegoers laugh when Austin Powers makes quotation marks with his fingers and shouts, “Fire ‘the laser!’” 

If surveys are correct, about half of the Christian clergy who serve in the United States don’t believe that Jesus really came back to life.  The disciples probably experienced a “resurrection” of some sort, maybe a resurrection of their own hopes.  If you know what I mean.

Perhaps I’m willing to bet my life that Jesus is alive right now, but I’d like to put an asterisk by that statement. It all depends on what part of my life you’re talking about.

I might bet my spiritual life on Jesus. But I really don’t want Somebody interfering with my sex life. Or the way I report my taxes. Or the information I include on my resume.  Jesus may be OK.  But only to a point.

If you want to get cynical, we could always go with the Dollar Sign. There’s got to be a catch. Somebody’s getting rich from all of this, or they wouldn’t keep floating such a crazy story.

Or how about Hashtag (#)? The hashtag is a way of tracking topics on social media platforms, whereby you can help people who are interested in your subject matter locate your comments and posts. Thus we have #WhoMovedTheStone, #DoubtingThomas, and #I’mOpenToAnyReligionThatIncludesChocolateEggs.

Others believe the story is probably significant, but they enclose it with parentheses.  In other words, the resurrection might really have happened (but it happened a long, long time ago). 

God did something wonderful (but that was then and this is now).  According to this perspective Easter ends up being a history lesson (rather than a word for today).

Dr. Gary Habermas is one of the world’s most respected teachers on the subject of the resurrection. He’s authored 14 books on the subject.  The greatest challenge of his adult life, however, was the day that he and his wife Debbie went to the doctor to inquire about the pains she felt in her stomach. He’ll never forget the doctor’s words: “We have some big problems here.” 

Four months later, at age 43, Debbie had died of cancer, leaving Gary to raise their four children and to struggle with a truckload of anguishing questions.

For Gary Habermas, the resurrection was transformed from a theological subject about which he had written a stack of books to his only real grounds for hope.

“Losing my wife,” he says, “is the most painful experience I’ve ever had to face…but I can’t get around the fact that the resurrection is the answer for her suffering.  If there’s a resurrection, there’s a heaven.  If Jesus was raised, Debbie was raised.  And I will be someday, too.  Then I’ll see them both.” 

For any of us who have struggled with the loss of someone we love, the empty tomb is more than just an obscure question or an historical footnote.

It’s all we’ve got.

So what’s the best punctuation mark for the last chapter of the life of Jesus?

The Bible suggests it ought to be an exclamation point.

Which would undoubtedly be, in the context of this broken world that continues to break our hearts, the best possible finale to our own lives as well.