Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Defining Religious Language: Crucifixion and Resurrection

Of all of the religious language that I have worked over the past few years to define for myself, these two words and concepts have by far been the hardest. I think there are three reasons for that. First, they are probably the two most sensitive words in the Christian faith. Second, they are words that carry with them one of the core differences between my liberal Christian faith and much of the rest of Christianity. And third, I know from experience that it is over my understanding of these two words that many would exclude me from Christianity.

So be it.

Let me state from the very outset that I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, not by the Romans, but on the orders of the religious leadership of Judea, because he represented a threat to their established political order. He was not crucified as a blood atonement for sin, neither his own nor ours. He was crucified because he dared to stand by his ideals and beliefs when confronted by that religious leadership, and because he had gained a popular following among the people. He was made a martyr because he was a threat.

Let me also state that I do not believe in the physical resurrection of his body from the tomb three days after that crucifixion. I believe that in the aftermath of his crucifixion, the followers of Jesus were in disarray and shock. They had expected Jesus to overthrow the religious leadership of Judea and take over as high priest of the temple. Now, they were hunted, Jesus was dead, and they had to come to a way of making meaning from what had happened.

I also believe they began seeing the teachings of Jesus all around them, and began meeting the spirit that he showed in the lives of people. With his death, his teachings were no longer a religious philosophy… the seriousness of what they were involved in had been made clear to them. They were involved in the beginning of a cultural revolution.

I believe they met together, shared his teachings, and felt his presence. By dying on the cross when he did and how he did, Jesus in many ways became immortal. His death as a martyr led to the explosion of the faith… to disciples and apostles going out to spread the message that Jesus had taught. “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, “If you bring forth that which is within you, that which is within you will save you”, and so much more.

The resurrection that occurred on the third day, and in the days that followed was not the physical resurrection of the body, but the resurrection of the message of Jesus, and its subsequent dispersal through out the world.

The later attempts to deify Jesus, to show him to have never really been like us, never really human, were in effect attempts to kill his message… not to promote it. Jesus was a divinely inspired man, but essentially a man, who against all odds stood up to the powers of the day and was martyred for that action … it is to me one of the most profound examples of living one’s faith, no matter the cost, that has ever occurred.

By deifying this divinely inspired man, the early church said “you can’t hope to be or live like Jesus, for he was God. All you can do is ask for forgiveness and grace.” To me, this was a perversion of the message that I find in the life and sayings of Jesus… that the Kingdom of God can only come to existence by loving one another, by realizing our own interconnections, and by having faith in both God and ourselves. With the deifying of Jesus came a message that reinforced the power and authority of the Christian bishops of the second and third century as they sought to suppress the many times many different understandings of the teachings of Jesus that had arisen.

The crucifixion that I remember on Good Friday was the death of a man who had dedicated his life to finding a new way for humans to treat one another, to live together in right relationship both with each other and with God. The resurrection that I celebrate was the resurrection of the message of faith, hope, and love that occurred among the followers of Jesus after the disarray caused by his death, and the subsequent spread of that message throughout the world.

I hope for a new resurrection as well… one that lets go of much of the myth and superstition surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and returns to a message of unity, peace, and right relationship that was the core of what he taught in life.

But there is another meaning in the resurrection for me, and that is that hope never dies. In the way the disciples and apostles of Jesus carried on after his death, there is the message that, even when the worst has happened, there is hope. The message, the experience will transform and evolve, but for people of faith there is never an end, only transformation and hope.

Click here to read the rest of the “Defining Religious Language” series.

Yours in faith,


5 Thoughts on “Defining Religious Language: Crucifixion and Resurrection

  1. Dear David,
    I have been struggling with my Easter sermon this week, trying to put into words my sense of the message of Easter, and you have helped me immensely. If I quote you directly, I will attribute to you, wiith great appreciation.

  2. Rev. Kit,

    I am honored, as i struggle with the Easter sermon I am writing for the Naval Basic Training Recruits at Great Lakes… thank you for telling me….

    Yours in faith,


  3. Thank you for this post. I grew up Catholic, and left for Unitarian Universalism five years ago. I think Easter has been the most difficult season for me to reframe, because of some of the issues you raise — who was Jesus, what really happened to him, and so on. I value my Catholic background, but there are some days I just don’t know what to do with it. Posts like yours help, if only to let me know I’m not the only one who has to rework these meanings.

  4. thank you for this inspiring and healing post

  5. In many ways, my blog essays are the pre-writing for my sermons…

    I thought I would share the link to the sermon that came from this particular essay…


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