In the hands of a skilled operator and when functioning properly, a yo-yo goes smoothly up and down. When thrown down, it unwinds until it reaches the end of its string, then returns to the thrower’s hand by rewinding its string around the spindle in the opposite direction. In the fancier models, a loop in the string and a smooth metal spindle allow the yo-yo to spin freely when reaches the end, an effect called “sleeping.” But, after sleeping for a while, the yo-yo springs back up to the thrower’s hand, because that’s what yo-yos are designed to do. If it didn't do this, something would be wrong.
Many Christians have the idea that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead after his crucifixion works like a yo-yo. When he dies on the cross, Jesus is like that yo-yo when it is thrown down. He “sleeps” in the tomb for a while, then pops right back up again, because that’s how it was designed to happen. In fact, if Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, something would have been wrong. These Christians believe that Jesus died knowing that, after a short delay, he would be resurrected...knowing that it was designed to happen that way, that guaranteed resurrection was part of the deal he made in surrendering his will to God’s will in Gethsemane. Sure, he will go down into the tomb, but after “sleeping” for a while, he will spring—yo-yo-like—back up to life.
But this understanding lessens the reality of Jesus’ death. If the Word really did become flesh so that God could dwell among us, if God entered into our world in a unique and miraculous way in Jesus, and became like us, then his death must also be like our death. All life must cease, and decay and dissolution must begin, with only the hope of new life. Resurrection cannot be automatic. It cannot be guaranteed.
Picture the yo-yo once more. But this time, imagine that the string breaks. When it is thrown down, rather than spinning at the end of the string and then rising again to the thrower’s hand, the yo-yo crashes to the floor, cracks in several places, then rolls under the sofa to be lost in the dust and darkness and never used again. That’s what death is like. When we die, we are dead. Everything that makes us who we are is gone, and we return to the elemental material from which we were made—the dust of the earth. So that must also be what Jesus’ death was like. When his lifeless body was taken down from the cross and hurriedly laid in a borrowed tomb, he was gone. He wasn't just “sleeping” for a few days, waiting to spring back up from the grave.
Dr. Farley Snell, former Chaplain at Southwestern University and one of the great influences on my life, had those of us who helped with chapel services make Lenten banners one year. He made one based on Acts 2:23-24. It read “This Jesus you crucified and killed., but God raised him up again.” We teased Farley about making a punctuation error in his design, but he explained it to us in this way: “My punctuation may be wrong, but my theology is right. The powers that arrested and crucified Jesus thought they put an end to him and his troubling teaching. They killed him and placed a period after it to signal that end. But God turned that period into a comma and kept going.”
Jesus was dead, but God was unwilling to let him stay dead. So, God raised him from the dead. The resurrection was an intentional re-creative act on God’s part that turned death back into life again. It wasn't something that happened automatically. That’s why this is called the “anti-yo-yo theory of the resurrection.” Apart from God’s special, intentional act, Jesus would have remained dead. But instead, Jesus is the first-fruits of those who will be raised from the dead. When we die, we will also be dead. Our string will break, our yo-yo will crash to the floor, crack and several places, and roll away into darkness and dust. But for each of us, God will perform an intentional re-creative act and turn our death back into life again, so that we can live with God forever.
I don't know about you, but this way of looking at it makes both the miracle of the Resurrection and our hope of eternal life much more meaningful. I think Jesus would definitely "give a rat's ass about" that!