It’s as if Paul is saying, “Yes, this is hard, really hard, trying to live out the love and message of Jesus. Yes, we face opposition, we risk failure, we’ve tasted defeat, for sure… but we keep going. We have faith along this journey because we know it’s God at work within us. We’re not running on our own steam here. We are instruments of God’s grace.
What else could unite the Owen family, 63 Haitians, or a 95 year old veteran? What else could tie together billions of people across different beliefs and times and cultures? It’s deceivingly small and simple, yet Baptism makes a profound claim: this is the truest thing about you. You are a child of God. You belong to Christ. You are of infinite worth to the Creator. Your dignity is God-given. In Paul’s words, in the imagery of the Old Testament, “you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.”
…we’re not just shells. All bodies have inherent worth and dignity. Bodies society tends to discard–darker bodies, transgender bodies, poor bodies–matter to God. The church doesn’t seek justice for statistics, but bodies. We don’t show mercy to sociological categories, but bodies. Human beings with emotions, scars, memories, quirks–God breathes life into all of that, and even works through it. Why would God erase all that handiwork in some disembodied paradise?
It’s easier to love someone if we are curious about their experience. If we suspend judgment, even for a brief moment, and begin to inquire, to ask questions, to wonder about why they do what they do, or why they think the way they think, we can love them more deeply. To be curious is an act of agape (love) because it is oriented to the other person. Empathy and compassion don’t appear out of nowhere. “You never truly know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” the old adage goes. Be curious.
As the refrain in our next hymn goes, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Unified congregations, congregations that can handle conflict in healthy ways have a role to play in this day and age. Christians of all stripes who can work together, despite their differences, can indeed be a peacemaking presence in a polarized society.
I’m convinced that you don’t have to get arrested to be a faithful Christian. But still, this text messes with me. It burrows into my mind, making me wonder: in what ways have I taken risks for my faith?” How have I “disturbed the peace,” so to speak, by telling a hard truth in my family or my workplace? How does our faith lead us to stand up for somebody who is voiceless?
It’s not just the church as an institution that has this choice. Each of us within it does. The Spirit can breathe the new life of the empty tomb through our deeds and words. Easter can take become tangible in our families, workplaces, and neighborhoods. We can as Wendell Berry said “every day do something that won’t compute… practice resurrection.” Forgive a grudge. Babysit a neighbor’s child. Visit a lonely person. Apologize. Be the positive voice in a room full of negativity. In the name of Jesus, rise up!
I’m not sure if “ends of the earth” is meant to be interpreted geographically or metaphorically. Meaning if Jerusalem symbolizes life with God then the “ends of the earth” would symbolize life apart from God. Taken in that vein, I would say that today, in our society, the ends of the earth might be seen in racism, xenophobia, the effects of substance abuse, gun violence, the ever increasing wage and wealth gap, and in a society that fails our children by underfunding public school education, eliminating accessible health care, and depleting resources and services of the Department of Child Safety…
The joke of Easter morning was God’s. The joke was on the authorities who conspired against Jesus. The joke was on the Romans; the mightiest empire couldn’t keep down a peasant from Galilee! The joke was on death itself, the ultimate divide and “last enemy,” as the Apostle Paul called it, that ultimate reality over which no one has control.
This is a God who is present in suffering, who suffers with us, who has tastes human experience. This is a God whose heart breaks at injustice. This is a God who chooses to be in solidarity with all who are scared, excluded, oppressed, hurting, and ashamed. We don’t look at the cross and see a bloodthirsty God who needs to be appeased, who relishes the pain of God’s child out of some perverted sense of justice; we behold a God of compassion, literally “with-suffering.”