As humans, our rebuttal game is strong. We can argue with anything or anyone at anytime. Our ability to do this begins at a fairly young age. You know this to be true if you have ever, say, taken away screen time from a nine-year-old for refusing to do what’s asked of her. Her rebuttals will be swift, high-pitched, and forceful. Her strategy will be to offer an overwhelming number of them in rapid succession. The insistent phrase “But Mama” said one too many times can cause even the strongest parent to cave.
After those early years of training, we develop a more sophisticated capacity for rebuttals. In conversations, for example, we tend to think about our own responses while the other person is still talking. If you need proof of this, consider how many times you have asked someone’s name only to realize that you’ve missed it because you were busy thinking about what you were going to say next. Our rebuttal problem only gets bigger from there. These days, it has grown into something of a national sport.
In fact, it seems like public rebuttals have become more frequent and somewhat squawkier in nature. People are quick to pounce anytime someone offers a different point of view. Instead of real debate, we try to take that person down with a witty or biting comeback. And whenever someone misspeaks or messes up, the public response is swift and merciless. For example, if a celebrity or politician says something outlandish in public, note how the internet grabs a bag of popcorn and watches as the rebuttal memes pour in. Our rebuttal game is strong.
And while we’re talking about our knack for rebuttals against other people, we should note that we are very skilled at using them against ourselves, too. Here’s how it works. Has anyone ever paid you a compliment, and your response was to argue against it, either in your head or out loud? Say a friend compliments your new outfit. You might be quick to deflect her kindness by revealing that you got if for super cheap on the clearance rack. Or say someone tells you what a wonderful job you did on a work project, and all you can think about are the flaws in the final product. Or consider this, one of the most difficult examples of how this works. Has anyone ever told you that they love you, and within, I don’t know, maybe a millisecond, your mind goes to the parts of yourself that you don’t like or that seem unloveable? That feeling of unworthiness can run deep, no matter how much love comes our way. Our rebuttal game is strong.
I bring all of this up because I think it’s especially strong on Easter. If you have any doubts about the resurrection of Jesus, you are not alone. People have offered rebuttals ever since it happened. Part of the trouble is that no one in the biblical account saw the actual resurrection. In fact, it’s the only miraculous episode reported in Jesus’ life without an eye witness account. Well, you say, maybe it was too mysterious to get a description. But there is a counterargument to that, too. We have detailed descriptions of Jesus walking on the water, of being transfigured on the mountain, and of his ascension into heaven, arguably events just as mysterious. But we have no details about the moment of the resurrection itself. Matthew’s gospel has a guard posted at the tomb, but apparently he didn’t see anything. Maybe he fell asleep, as some traditions hold. But it’s all speculation. So we fill in the void of the empty tomb on Easter morning with rebuttals. Maybe it was a hoax, or maybe Jesus had only fainted. Looking back over the centuries, you will find an almost unlimited number of these kinds of rebuttals.
But none of them hold any water in my book. My money is on the resurrection. I trust that it is true, because God’s game is always stronger and more spectacular than ours. In truth, I think the counterarguments we throw at Easter stem from an internal problem we have. When Jesus rose from the dead, all that is wrong with the world and with our own hearts was forgiven. All of it. That’s not easy to accept. It would be easier to deflect that overwhelming grace than to accept it as true for ourselves. It would be easier to throw our rebuttals against such a declaration of love. How could we possibly deserve it? When faced with the sheer vastness of God’s love, we tend to feel more like sale rack material, flawed bits of merchandise that don’t deserve it.
The author of Luke’s Gospel clearly understood our knack for rebuttals. He used that very habit of ours to get through to us, in order that we would hear the good news of Easter. Did you notice that the story of the women at the empty tomb is chock full of rebuttals? It’s genius, really. By using the defiant little word “but” no fewer than six times in twelve verses, Luke told a story that one ups all of our counterarguments. Listen to the rebuttals.
Jesus was dead. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. They saw two angels and were terrified, but the angels said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" And here comes the angels’ biggest rebuttal, on which the whole thing hinges: “He is not here, but has risen.” Then, the women ran and told the others, but these words seemed to them an idle tale. No one believed them, but Peter got up anyway and ran to the tomb. And then, to his surprise, he saw that their words were true.
This gospel should have our heads spinning with those six great reversals. They invite us into the truth of the resurrection. To all of our counterarguments and rebuttals, God simply says,but it’s true. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s ultimate rebuttal to all of our squawky objections. The resurrection is God’s rebuttal to the violence of the world that landed Jesus on the cross. The resurrection is God’s rebuttal to all sin and regrets, all flaws and unbelief, and all of our arguments of unworthiness. Like a divine compliment paid to the human race, that overwhelming love cannot be deflected. Not on Easter.
Our rebuttal game is no match for God’s. God’s game is much stronger. No matter how squawky we get about what’s wrong with the world, or other people, or what’s wrong with ourselves, Easter comes along with a defiant little conjunction. But there is forgiveness. But there is grace. But there is resurrection. There is a love greater than anything, and stronger than death itself. Like a nine-year-old without screens, God’s rebuttal comes at us urgently, passionately, and relentlessly. God’s rebuttal is at its loudest on this glorious morning. Christ is risen. God’s rebuttal for the win. Happy Easter.