THE DAY WHEN JOY TRUMPED FEAR
Matthew 28: 1-10
The Rev Samuel Son, Co-Pastor at a new Presbyterian Worshipping Community in Raleigh, North Carolina, had these thoughts published in a journal last month:
If the church no longer seems to matter in the Western world, it is because Easter no longer matters to the church the way it should. The church doesn’t make the emperor’s knees knock any more—nor that of CEOs or anyone with institutional power—as the early church did, because resurrection has been shaved into a synonym for the spring return of flowers and birds. Easter Sunday is not much more than a Christianized spring festival with bunnies…and no longer a commitment of everything to the death-shattering event of the empty tomb. A shriveled grape doesn’t make good wine, and a mythological resurrection can’t sustain the church against the powers of the world. [Presbyterian Outlook, Vol. 199, No. 5, p. 12]
I do not believe in a mythological resurrection; Jesus arose from the dead! But it’s food for thought, isn’t it? People most often hope the resurrection is real especially when they are facing the end of their life or the life of a loved one. But had you considered the watershed, earth-shaking news and its effect our daily lives: that Christ’s birth changed the calendar because he arose from the dead? If that had not happened, no one would be marking his birth in our day. So Jesus rising from the dead did change the world! How much has it changed you and the way you live, and more particularly, how has it changed what you think about when facing a loved one’s death? One other person wrote this about the impact of Easter:
Resurrection was like the Big Bang of creation. The Big Bang theory cannot provide explanation for its own initial condition. It is not repeatable…. The blast of the Big Bang is the galaxies, the stars, the earth. The blast of the resurrection is the miraculous and missional birth of the church: Galilean peasants venturing to neighboring Samaria, then as far as Spain and Syria.
Are there kernels of Christianity still planted in Syria? Yes. But the weeds of evil are growing and choking them. We face the Crucified Christ and the Risen Christ with the backdrop of an international chess game of power and destruction. Battles are being fought as a backdrop to our Easter services.
I am reminded of the 2 minute rendition that Simon and Garfunkel produced in 1966, when they began a song with actual snippets of news stories from August 3rd that year, that included racial aggression, deaths in Vietnam, drug overdoses, people stabbed and even strangled. The news reports start to fade into the background as Simon and Garfunkel offer their luscious harmonies singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.” The song was called “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night. We, in turn, hear the news that bombs are dropped and people are gassed as we sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” What juxtapositions of reality and hope.
Carl Hopkins Elmore once told of a Jewish rabbi who was so moved and disturbed by the maltreatment of his race in certain sections of the world that he sent an appeal to all Christendom on the eve of another Easter: “I challenge the Christian world to measure itself by the standards of its Christ. As long as any group is judged by its creed or color or country in place of its character, Christianity is a sacrilege rather than a sanctity. To this end I summon Christians everywhere to make this Easter to signify Christ realized and not merely Christ risen.” What did he mean exactly by this distinction between Christ risen and Christ realized? Christ realized means Christian faith is alive when it impacts our daily realities. It means we hope that Christ comes out from the annals of history to be a redeeming force for humanity because good Christian men and women are choosing to act: to do something instead of doing nothing, or letting others do something instead. Christ risen is a common chorus for all congregations on Easter, but Christ realized means that sleeves have to be rolled up, votes cast, and changes be made regarding injustice and forgottenness.
The Apostle Paul wrote it this way in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“Anyone who is in Christ becomes a new creation. The past is finished and gone. … And he gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He did not give us the ministry of apathy or of annihilation. Do we then downplay the Risen Christ? By no means! Ours would be a hollow and groundless faith were we not able to say that once, in the pattern of history, a man appeared who was indeed “very God;” who also lived a human existence that reflected things never before seen or known on earth; who taught a way of life more original than any philosopher had been able to frame; who embraced the Will of God so completely that he himself was truth; and who shared our humanity to the extent that he took on death and overthrew the power of Satan. Plus, somehow after death, he appeared again to vindicate his claims! Through the centuries, Christ risen became the impulse and impetus behind the highest and best in our civilization and culture. It is evident in the art and sculpture of Raphael, DaVinci, and Michelangelo; in the music of Handel, Bach, And Beethoven. And it inspired the poetry of Dante, Milton, and Browning.
One of my professors from Princeton Seminary, the late Dr. Donald Macleod said this:
Who among us is happy over what we think and do on Easter Day? Is
that not enough? It becomes increasingly apparent that the fact of Christ risen is not enough. And it will continue to be so, until we turn a first century fact into a living twentieth century reality….This goes to the heart of our worship when we praise God on Sunday and cheat our brother or sister on Monday.”
Today, let’s connect the dots between actions during a fateful week in the first century, and actions we may choose to take, this week and later, in the twenty-first century. In the upper room that Passover week, on the day we now call Maundy Thursday, a new commandment was given—Jesus said, “love one another as I have loved you,” and a new covenant was sealed. By Friday morning Jesus was on his way to the cross. God in Christ would suffer and die for us. Jesus breathed his last and died as the shofar was blown in the Temple announcing the sacrifice of the lamb for the sins of the Jews. At that specific time, Jesus: the Lamb of God, gave up his spirit just outside the walls of Jerusalem, paying the price for the sins of the whole world. Jesus died at the traditional hour of lamb sacrifice: 3:00 p.m. A man moved to action—Joseph of Arimathea, asked for the body of Jesus after he died. He wanted to give him a proper burial.. He asked the authorities Jesus’ body and lovingly buried him in his family tomb. Jewish law said unequal things could not be yoked together, so no one in his family could be buried in that family tomb since Jesus had been buried there first. Yet Joseph still offered his tomb—a very costly gift. Early in Jesus’ ministry, fisherman dropped their nets and chose to follow him, at great personal cost. What is the cost of following Christ for you? Have you counted the cost and said “Yes?” How can we show our gratitude for a God who loves us unconditionally, and a Savior who has unlocked the gates of Heaven? Christians remember the resurrected Christ around the world today saying: “Together we are the body of Christ, and individually members of Him.” Let others see Jesus through you. And let his resurrection change your life.
Jeffrey A. Sumner April 16, 2017