A Word to Easter
April 5, 2015
from Bishop John Roth
“The good news of Jesus Christ is a thing of great comfort,” said C. S. Lewis. “But it doesn’t begin in comfort. It begins in distress and despair and there’s no way to get to the comfort by bypassing the despair.” Which is why the church has the somber season of Lent (all the hymns seem to be in a minor key) before Easter: we know that there is no way to get to the comfort by bypassing the despair.
In particular, the great despair: death.
This is where we need to start looking at belief in Jesus’ resurrection in another way. It is the difference between belief as “OK, that’s true” and belief as “I entrust myself to you.” Imagine a guest on the 5th floor balcony of a burning hotel clinging to the railing; the fire fighter on the ladder pleads, “Let go of the railing; I’ve got you; I’ll carry you; you’re safe with me.” The guest needs to trust the fire fighter to live. But the guest won’t let go. In essence, out of fear or uncertainty or whatever, at that moment the guest has more faith in the railing of the burning building than in the fire fighter.
To believe in Jesus’ resurrection is to entrust myself to God in Christ – in life and in death. Anything else is the balcony rail of a burning hotel.
I would guess that at least some of you say to yourself, “I wish I could believe in Easter. I don’t quite. But I wish I could.” Let me encourage you to go with that wish. If that is as far as you can go right now, go with it. Even to want the resurrection, to long for the promise of the resurrection even though you are unsure of it, is strengthening. Mary, Peter, and the other disciples started with less than that, and look what happened to them.
There is still a potential misunderstanding – or at least partial misunderstanding – of Easter for people who trust in Jesus’ resurrection: that is to narrow down the effect of Jesus resurrection to its effect on me individually and on my loved ones right around me.
Remember the movie Titanic, starring Leonardo DeCaprio? (If Titanic is one of your favorite movies, I’m going to make you unhappy – my apologies.) An enormously popular movie. But isn’t it striking that so huge a tragedy, with so many large lessons to be learned, could be reduced (unrealistically reduced by the way, but how true to early 20th century life the movie actually is, is another story) to the level of boy meets girl, gets romantically involved with girl, then dies, leaving the girl to live into her nineties privately pondering these things in her heart. Is it, maybe, a sign of our times that we eventually reduce everything, even a large, undeniable tragedy like the sinking of the Titanic, to the level of an individual relationship? Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for relationships; bishops are pastors and pastors are in the relationship business. Plus, I don’t want to make too much of a deal out of one movie. But still, what does it say is really important if it comes down to two teenagers clinging to one another, and then one sinks into watery oblivion? How will future films treat the horrible tragedy of Germanwings Flight 9525? Will they take a huge tragedy and reduce it to selected touching personal relationships – when the event itself is that and yet so much more than that?
Easter goes in exactly the opposite direction. Easter is the event where God vindicates the dead Jesus by raising him to life and in doing so explodes death into cosmic triumph. Easter does answer the question, “How do I and the ones dear to me live forever?” But Jesus’ resurrection is not only – not even primarily – about “How do I and the ones dear to me live forever?” It is about, “What does God do with all the sin, and all the suffering, and all the death?”
We individually are fallen and broken, drawn to other gods, wrapped up in our own self-salvation projects. But it is not only us. It is the world. You don’t have to look far to see cause for despair – and the sin and brokenness behind the despair is real.
Jesus took the sin of the world to the cross. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is a thing of cosmic restoration – the first stage of God’s universal restructuring plan.
In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, (this is in the book, though I did not see it in the movie) Frodo’s friend Sam wakes up, thinking everything is lost and discovering instead Gandalf standing over the bed. Gandalf says, "Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?" But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: "Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
The answer is “yes”. If Jesus’ resurrection is true – and it is true – the answer is “yes”. Everything sad is going to come untrue.
From all of us in the Central/Southern Illinois Synod office, may this Easter with its comfort that begins in distress and despair renew your faith – deepen your trust in God through Jesus Christ.