In the movie Risen, Joseph Fiennes plays a Roman Tribune named Clavius who is ordered by Pontius Pilate to investigate what happened to the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. Clavius is portrayed as a good soldier, albeit ambitious. He doesn’t want to be in Jerusalem, but does his duty while he waits for better assignments to come along. He certainly doesn’t care for this current assignment, going around the city digging up dead bodies.

But a funny thing starts to happen to Clavius. Being a good soldier, he follows the evidence. Slowly he starts to realize that the person he’s looking for might actually have risen from the dead.

Christians who demand that movies stick strictly to the Biblical text will find parts of Risen not to their liking. And of course Clavius is a completely fictional character. But there is something powerful about the way he deals with the new reality he’s confronted with. Clavius could be any thoughtful person who allows his own ideas to be challenged by the facts.

In the first century, nobody believed that a person could rise from the dead. It was totally outside the worldview of both Jews and Greeks. Yet within a few hundred years, Christianity went from a small, marginalized sect to being the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.

Clavius discovered, as billions of people have since, once the evidence begins to sink in, your worldview has to change.


The Bible can seem like a long and intimidating book, but when you look closely, you see that the most amazing things are conveyed in very few words. In telling the story of the resurrection in just ten verses, Matthew isn’t interested in how God pulled it off. Matthew wants us to experience the wonder for ourselves.

When Jesus turned water into wine, there’s no description of how it happened. All we know is that when the master of the banquet tasted the wine, he discovered the greatest vintage ever.

When Jesus fed the 5,000, there’s no description of that either. All the disciples knew was that when they reached into their baskets, the bread and fish never ran out.

In Matthew’s account of the first Easter, Jesus himself met the terrified women running back to tell the disciples about the empty tomb. “Hi,” he said.

God’s first word after conquering death and ushering in new life for all creation was the simple everyday greeting used by the Greeks, chairete. Literally, “rejoice.”

Today we simply say, “Hi.”

Part of the wonder of the resurrection is how subtly it comes.

God is making everything new. The power of what happened that day is seeping into every nook and cranny of the universe. Nothing can stop it. No matter how good or bad things get, the best is always yet to come, and we have an eternity to enjoy it. Our lives have purpose and meaning, since we are part of God’s plan. But resurrection life can be so subtle that we can miss it.

Live each day in joy and wonder.

Chairete. Rejoice.



This week was the annual meeting of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP). I’m proud to be elected to serve another three year term on the board. The folks at the PDP are absolutely terrific. They love the city. But I’m the only minister.

Downtown is booming. In the last eight years, over $7 billion has been spent on projects within blocks of the church. There is over $600 million in new construction taking place right now. There are hundreds of new hotel rooms and apartments. Dozens of new restaurants.

Pittsburgh has become a center for innovation. Dozens of new ideas are coming together which will shape urban life in ways that we can’t imagine. Did you know there are self-driving cars all over town right now? Speakers from all different domains extolled the rewards of city life. But there were no churches on the docket.

I have to admit that I come back from these meetings literally shaking. I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. It’s because of the enormous opportunities God has given us as a downtown church.

The challenge is that the culture is running away from the church faster than ever. The keynote speaker was a nationally known transportation expert who had exciting ideas about improving quality of life. And yet he began his talk by saying that human life is an accident. His motivation for addressing transportation needs was climate change.

It would seem that technology and climate change have replaced Christianity as the dominant religion. If that’s true, then civic policy is not based on an external standard of truth, but on what seems to work today.

Calm down. Breathe into a paper bag, Tom. God is still God, and God is calling us to make his truth known. Unless civic policy is based on that, why would decisions made today be better or wiser than the decisions made a generation ago, which the current experts are trying to undo?

What an enormous task we have to speak God’s truth with love into the heart of the city.


In her story in The Atlantic, “Social Connection Makes a Better Brain,” Gloria Esfahani Smith said, “We volunteer less. We entertain guests at our homes less. We’re getting married less. We’re having fewer children. And we have fewer and fewer close friends with whom we’d share the intimate details of our lives. We’re denying our social nature, and paying a price for it. Social isolation has increased, our levels of happiness have gone down, while rates of suicide and depression have multiplied.”

I was thinking about how different our relationships are today from when I grew up. Back then, I knew the folks who lived up and down my street. Over 50 years later, I can still remember most of them. But today we don’t know our neighbors. Our houses have automatic garage doors. Back decks have replaced front porches.

Today, churches have become voluntary associations of individuals.  We choose a church the same way we choose anything else—it has to “work for me.”  When it stops “working for me,” we move on.

This Sunday, we welcome new members in the church. It’s hard to imagine anything we do that is more important. God doesn’t just beam the Holy Spirit into us when we believe. It is through others that God is formed in us and we become who Christ made us to be.

The word “you” in the Bible is almost always plural, but we don’t read it that way. When we ignore the plural “you,” we diminish ourselves.

CS Lewis, the great 20th century Christian author, told the story in his book the Four Loves about his friendship with two men, Ronald and Charles. When Charles died, he consoled himself with the idea that now he would have more of Ronald. But what he discovered was, that instead of having more of Ronald, he had less. He found that we are such rich and complex beings, that there are facets to our personalities that only others can bring out. You actually get to know a person better in a group than one on one.

How much more is this true of our relationship with Jesus Christ? We need each other to bring out all the facets of Christ in us.