Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sinking In and Sticking Around

John 15:9-17
April 22, 2018
William G. Carter

"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."

 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

To live with scripture is to pay attention to the power of words. In our own time and place, that’s easier said than done. We are deluged with words. There are speedy words like “accelerate,” and slow words like “turtle.” There are rich words like “Cadillac,” and modest words like “Ford.” There are young words like “Instagram” and there are old words like “lavender.” There are even made-up words like “Dilly dilly” and “Bada boom bada boom.”

So what are we to make of a word like “abide”? It sounds like an old word, older than my grandmother who died at 102. She wore lavender, by the way. “Abide” is not a common word, not any more. No one says, “I rented a condo at the Jersey shore and I’m going down there for a week to abide.” No, it’s a verb that most people would store on a shelf in the attic, right up there with “sojourn” and “tarry.”

So it may strike us as unusual that this is one of Gospel of John's favorite words. He uses it again and again. The verb pops up as early as the first chapter. Some upcountry folks see Jesus and ask, "Rabbi, where are you abiding?" (1:38) Some translate that, "staying." Others translate it "remaining." That’s fascinating, given that John says, “He pitched his tent” (1:33) and presumably kept moving.

“Rabbi, where are you abiding?” they ask. And John writes, “So they came and saw where he was abiding, and they abided with him that day” (1:39). 33 times in the Fourth Gospel, 18 times in John’s first letter, it’s the same word. It is his favorite word.

Dale Bruner says this is a relationship word. Abiding signifies more than a visit for tea. It’s different from bunking on the couch. It signifies something deeper than a sleepover with friends. Bruner says to abide with Jesus is “make our home” with him. And specifically in this section of John’s Gospel, to make our home in Christ’s love. To stay there. To remain in that. To dwell there. .

In a restless world of distractions and enticements, what would it look like to stay in Christ's love? When there is another 5K to run, another chore to do, a family gathering to enjoy, anotheractivity to run to?

Sometimes I have the conversation with parents with young suburban children. They will say something like, "We love the church, we want to get out kids there, but there's so much going on elsewhere. We don’t know what to do." We can talk about priorities, about putting God first, about any number of things, and any advice lasts as far as the parking lot. In a hyperactive culture like this, what would it look like to abide anywhere, much less in a church pew?

And please notice, Jesus does not say, “Abide in my congregation,” but “abide in my love.” That’s easier said than done. It might be more difficult than 

A couple of weeks ago, I had a difficult exchange with a man in the community, a member of another congregation. I’m not going to get into details. Suffice it to say it was a clear difference of opinion. Each of us believed he was right, and this guy was convinced I was wrong. I received nasty, contentious emails. Finally, I had to just let it go. There are some battles that are simply not worth fighting.

As I reflected on the matter, it struck me that the whole thing was a distraction from the love of Christ, a love so deep that it covers even the people who are envious, boastful, arrogant, and rude, insisting on their own way. The more I fussed about that small conflict, the more I could sense it was blotting out any love I had - for him, for anybody. 

On human level, could say "the matter is not worth it." On a clinical level, could say "He hasa lot of issues." But on a Christian level, had to let it go and hand it over to God, and wish this man well. He has his own journey to undertake; I have mine, you have yours.

What would it look like, to abide in the love of Christ?

First, it looks like staying. Staying there, not to scurry around, not to look for some other source of solace, but to remain. That's what the word "abide" really means.

I wonder how many human relationships blow apart simply because one person or the other does not stay. Somebody flits emotionally from branch to branch. Or daydream about other fish in the sea. Or for those disenchanted with their circumstance, to proclaim with manufactured righteousness, "The grass is greener on the other side of the fence." People who say that overlook the fundamental truth that it's still grass. It's only grass. It’s not carpet, it's grass. Even for those with big aspirations, it's only more grass.

There is a tendency to overinflate our relationships, to expect too much from them, to demand that the person, or the job, or the church should meet all of our unchecked, unwarranted needs, and then to blow it up with dynamite when it doesn't fit our requirements. That’s not staying. That's something else.

Like the woman who was talking about her marriage, not talking, really, but complaining. It turns out Mr. Right wasn't so perfect after all. Why did she think he would be? “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe if I had a firefighter to rescue me out of a burning building. Or someone to ride along on the roller coast. Or at least somebody who didn’t bore me.” So we had a conversation about it. Was it possible for her to live with a mere human being? 

And if we cultivate such discontent with our human relationships, is it any wonder that we have discontent in our primary spiritual relationship? The sassy kid said to his youth group advisor, "I think I will try Buddhism. Jesus just isn't doing it for me." It was the last straw in a long conversation, so the youth worker sassed him right back, “Tony, why do you think it's all about you?"

Tony said, “What do you mean? Of course it’s about me.” And this very gracious youth worker said, “In that case, let me tell you about you. You never come to worship two weeks in a row,much less one week out of four. We never see you at a Bible study, you never show up when the rest of the gang is engaged in a service project, never volunteer to help anybody out. What do you think Christ is, your own personal faucet that you can tap for living water whenever you're in need or in the mood?"  Pretty direct, but it was the appropriate word.

Then she got to the heart of it all. Tony,” she said, “I’m going to tell you something out of love: Jesus is risen. He is present. Hcontinues to wait for you to stay with him.

The spiritual life, the Easter life, is one of staying with Christ. We won't see him, we can't know him, until we stay with him and abide in his love. So it’s more than merely remaining with Jesus, it’s sinking in. It’s putting down roots in his grace. And it’s praying through our dissatisfactions until we are consumed by his sufficiency.

To draw on John's language, abiding in Christ and his love is to sink into the two gifts of his incarnation: grace and truth"The law came through Moses," says the Gospel, "but grace and truth come through Jesus Christ."
The law is good. God speaks. The words are a gift. They are Torah to teach us how to walk, how to work, even how to rest. God’s Words are a gift. 

But when the Light comes into the darkness, we see who we really are. In the face of holy brilliance, we discover our own shadows. When we are smug about all our activity, we avoid the truth that comes when we must receive and not produce.  People like me are especially so full of words that we are afraid of what might bubble up in the silences. To face all of this is to sink into the truth, to face the truth that no matter how competent and put-together we want others to think we are, there are fractures and shadows. 

We are incomplete without the Love that can heal, hold, and re-commission us, the love that binds us to both friend and stranger. And in that truth, Christ reveals the grace. The heart of the Gospel is that the cleansing power of love will stay with us as we are, promising to scrub away the dirt between our toes and the grime within our hearts, a Love that renews us again and again so that we might love others.

This is the end of it all: to sink into the love of Christ so that we find ourselves by loving others. What Jesus reveals about God is that love is expansive, not restrictive. Love abounds and doesn’t reduce. The more deeply we love, the more we are able to love. If we could abide in such love, it would be enough. Enough for us, enough for others.

Abide – the Greek word is “meno.” Someone told me that is the root word for “mansion” or “manse.” It’s a place to dwell, a place to be at home.

It reminds me of a little pamphlet somebody gave me in college. Maybe some of you have seen it somewhere in your journey. It was called, “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” When I was nineteen, it was helpful tract, offering a guided tour of how Christ can come into all the rooms of the place where you dwell. 

These days, however, I have come to sense the title of the little pamphlet may be too small, too individualistic. So let’s flip it and see how big it is: “Christ’s Heart, My Home” – and your home, his heart is the true home for others. In fact, it can be the home, God willing, even for our enemies: Christ’s Heart. 

So the Spirit of God invites us today sink into that, to stay with that. And as we do, we discover all over again that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 3:16).

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Best Way to Overcome Ignorance

Acts 3:12-26
Easter 3
April 15, 2018
William G. Carter

 And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. 

A week after Holy Humor Sunday, the expectation lingers that there might be one more joke. So here’s one that I like:

A guy is sitting at home when he hears a knock at the door. He opens the door and sees a snail on the porch. He picks up the snail and throws it as far as he can. Three years later, there’s a knock on the door. He opens it and sees the same snail. The snail says, “What was that all about?”

That’s the point of Peter’s speech. In the days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter addresses the question, “What was that all about?”

Peter and John are up on the steps of the Jerusalem temple. In the name of Jesus, they have just helped a man crippled from birth to stand up. Not only to stand, but the text says he started “leaping and praising God.” It’s an orthopedic miracle, performed free of charge. The man used to beg for handouts, and now he’s up and jumping around. Peter and John are instant celebrities. What’s that all about?

Peter says, “It’s about Jesus.” Don’t stare at Peter and John. Don’t scratch your head. Don’t ask them for an autograph. This is a sign that Jesus Christ is alive. Easter was not a single day; it is an ongoing reality. Every once in a while, the evidence bubbles up. A man who couldn’t walk for his entire life is now up and dancing. The Christ who spent a lot of his time among us healing other people is alive and still healing.

It’s an astonishing moment. The storyteller says the healing created a crowd. People rush in. They are curious. They are dazzled. How can this be?

Peter is never one to turn down an available microphone. He turns the question back on the crowd to say, yes, indeed, how can this be? Jesus was among us. He healed scores of people. His power changed a lot of lives. The were no longer weak, no longer ignored, no longer reduced to begging those going to pray in the Temple for a couple of bucks for bread. Jesus gave life to people. That’s what he did and everybody knows it.

“Yet you rejected him,” says Peter. “You rejected him and handed him over to be killed.” What was that all about?

It’s a good question. We don’t ask it very much once Easter is over. Why did they reject Jesus?

If the question comes up, it’s usually sometime between the hosannas on Palm Sunday and the triumph on Easter. One of the curious things about American Christianity is that we have shouts of joy on Palm Sunday, and then we have more shouts of joy on Easter. Some people never notice that, in between, somebody dies.

From time to time, I’ve done an informal survey during Holy Week. I wander up and down the aisles of the supermarket and wait until I see somebody I recognize.

  • Then I ask, “Are we going to see you on Maundy Thursday?” “Oh, I don’t think so,” somebody will say. “It’s too dark and it’s kind of depressing.”
  • Are you able to come to worship on Good Friday? “Well, no, we are going to hard-boil some eggs and color them. It’s a good day to take off.”
  • So I change my approach. We chat for a bit, then I say, “One of my favorite worship services of the year is on Maundy Thursday. Do you think you can come?” “We have to pack for Disney World.”
  • In quiet desperation, I try one more time: “Hey, we have a fresh approach to Good Friday. There’s a service at noon; it used to be three hours long, with six sermons (that was kind of grim), but we’ve shrunk it down to 58 minutes. It’s not so bad. I hope you can come.” He said, “Does anybody go to that anymore?”

Why do you suppose people in our own day celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus by ignoring the death?

Maybe it’s because of our cultural obsession with success. Nobody likes a downer. Just think positive thoughts. Put together a little dance troupe and sing, “Look on the bright side of life.” Jesus is victorious over death? Right? Isn’t that the point? He is stronger, mightier, more powerful. I believe I’ve said some of those things myself.

If that’s the message that gets you through the bumps in life, I understand that. There is some hard-earned wisdom that comes from an upward-orientation. So much so, that I hate to bring up two small warnings. First, just because you expect everything to turn out well doesn’t mean that it will; we still have to deal with the truth that we are unfinished human beings, with flaws, failures, and feelings of inadequacy.

That reminds me of a psychological study somebody did about ten years ago. A team of researchers visited a number of those mega-churches that emphasize positive thinking and uplifting music. Know what they discovered? The rate of clinical depression is far greater in places like that. That might be why the people go there, to feel better… and it’s not working.

But there is a second warning for those who wish to avoid the dark side and emphasize the positive. Here it is: the Risen Christ has scars. He comes back and says to those who love him: see the nail prints? Easter does not patch him up. Christ is alive, thoroughly alive, and he is scarred. His scars are a reminder of what kind of world this is, even though he is alive.

So that’s what Peter’s speech is trying to address. He will not let the crowds sweep him away after a miracle; Jesus did plenty of miracles and somebody nailed him to a tree. “This Jesus was the Holy One, the Righteous One,” he says. “He was the Author of life, the one whose very name made this man strong and gave him perfect health. And you killed him. God raised him from the dead – but God did that because you killed him.”

And dare I ask, one more time: “What was that all about?” What was that cross – and that resurrection - all about? Peter answers with a single word: “Ignorance.” “You and your leaders killed him out of ignorance.”

Now, that’s a harsh description, don’t you think? We are Presbyterians, most of us. We believe in the power of education. Wherever Presbyterians have gone, we have started schools and colleges. We expect our preachers to have a lot of schooling, and if there are lapses (and you know that there are), we expect the preachers to study and keep learning. We want to eradicate ignorance!

And yet, a handful of years ago, our denominational offices had a financial crisis. They had to make some cuts. So do you know the first thing they cut? The fundraising department – the stewardship department.

Do you get a sense, maybe, of what kind of ignorance Peter is talking about? It’s not a lack of knowledge; it’s a lack of something else.

When I was in seminary, I spent my summer vacations working for a highway road crew. It was probably the last honest work I ever did. Here’s the way it worked: I was working on a master's degree, so I was at the bottom of the employment ladder. That meant filling in the potholes and scooping up the woodchucks. And when word leaked out I was going to Princeton, they gave me a nickname: The Professor. It was not a compliment.

It was a good corrective to the rarified air of my Ivy League seminary. My co-workers were good people, hard-working people. Some of them had a high school diploma. Some didn't even have that. But they were full of hard-earned wisdom. And they also knew that you could have a lot of schooling and still be a fool.

One day, a guy in a suit and tie ran through a traffic stop on a work site. In his haste, he almost hit one of the workers. One of the other men on the crew stepped out into the lane, blocked his passage, and waved a shovel wildly at the transgressor’s windshield. The man in the suit rolled down the window. The crew boss yelled, “Hey, Mr. Einstein, didn’t you see the signs or the guy with a flag?”

The man in the suit said, “I’m late. Get out of my way.” He rolled up the window and sped away. I will spare you some of the language he never got to hear. Suffice it to say, the men on the road crew didn’t think of him very highly. They thought that very self-important man was a fool.

Can we see Peter’s point? The government officials of Rome were the most privileged people of the empire. The religious leaders of Jerusalem were the best educated people in their city. To accuse them of ignorance is not a critique of their education or intelligence. It is a description of the darkness in their hearts.

It is easy to identify when smart and powerful people are afraid. They lie, they misdirect, they create alternative controversies. They will stop at nothing to eliminate those who speak the truth. At the root of it all is the presumption that they can save their own skin by deception and cunning.

“God told us it was going to be like this,” said Peter to the crowd. “God sent the prophets, one after another, to speak the truth to power, and power did everything it could to silence the truth.” This is the age-old script, recurring in every age. And the diagnosis, according to Peter, is “ignorance.”

We have heard this diagnosis before. On the cross, Jesus looks upon a fearful, angry world and prays for this world’s redemption. Remember the prayer? “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) They “know not,” agnostos – it’s the same word. “Father, forgive them, they are ignorant.”

The diagnosis will be given again. Another apostle, Paul of Tarsus, will make his way to Athens, home of the great thinkers and philosophers. He is no intellectual slouch, so he goes into the market place of ideas to talk about Jesus. On the way, he passes by one statue after another, each one dedicated to a different Greek god or goddess. Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Dionysus, Hermes, Poseidon, and Zeus are all there, plus one more – a statue to the “unknown god.” Just in case there was one that they were missing!

Paul says, “Let me tell you about that unknown god. That is the ‘agnostos’ god, the God you do not know, even though he is the source and destination of your life. That’s the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Smart people of Athens, this God has overlooked the seasons of human ignorance, but now commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)

“This is a strange kind of ignorance,” Fred Craddock says. "Repent of your ignorance. Of all the things to do with ignorance - repent of it! It must lie somewhere deeper, like some unwillingness to open the eyes and heart to God, to always be knowing and therefore not knowing. Always be on my own and therefore not God's own. To work hard as a student, get a 4-point average, and miss the point. That's what Luke is talking about.”[1]

Indeed it is a strange kind of ignorance. I think of that moment right after God calls the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah listens, objects, pushes back, and then breaks into song, “Here I am, Lord! Is it I, Lord? I have heard your voice calling me in the night.” He’s excited, thrilled really; it is on the threshold of becoming a Broadway musical.

But then God gives him the commission: “Go to my people and say, “You keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.” And God gets sarcastic: “Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

There is a kind of ignorance that has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence. It’s the kind of ignorance that declares, “I’m always right, it’s all about me, and I don’t need anybody but myself.” How tragic are the consequences of the kind of stupidity that lodges in the heart!

There is a way out. That’s the good news which Peter announces. And if you promise not to cheapen it, I’ll tell you what it is: humility. The best way we renounce it, the only way to renounce it, is to trust there is a God wiser than we are, a God who sees clearly even when we distort, a God who is committed to healing what we have broken, a God who ultimately will make all things right. Repentance is returning to that God, the real God, the God who would not let our great mistake of crucifying his Son cancel the great love he has for us and the world.

And that’s why we are here, and why we return to worship every week. It’s our way to turn from our sins and turn back to God. This is more than an empty ritual; it is the means by which we are cleansed and renewed. If the world could be saved by our own strength and wisdom, it would be have been saved by now. Even our best efforts, no matter how good they are, are flawed and temporary. Sometimes we do all the right things, but not for all the right reasons.  

But we can return. We can begin again. We can always begin again. And our humility is God’s opportunity.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] Fred B. Craddock, sermon “The Universal Dilemma.”

Saturday, March 31, 2018

You've Got to Be Kidding Me

Mark 16:1-8
April 1, 2018
William G. Carter

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

I heard about a church somewhere south of here, way south of here. It was a big church in a large city. On Easter they had a tradition of filling the chancel with lilies. Five hundred lilies, in fact. Sometimes they were arranged to form a large wall, other times in the shape of a cross. They were beautiful.

Each was offered in memory of a loved one for $8 each, so the insert of the Easter worship bulletin had a list of five hundred names, each remembered by the giving of a lily. Five hundred lilies, eight dollars each. They were beautiful.

In the sixteenth year of that tradition, it came unraveled. After worship was over, a woman who belonged to the church went forward. She announced, to no one in particular, “I’m going to visit a friend in the hospital. Can I take one of these lilies? I know I can’t tell which one I gave. They all look alike.” Before she got an answer, she went up to that enormous display, five hundred lilies, to get one. Then she turned to those who remained in the sanctuary and said in a shocked voice, “They’re plastic!”

A gasp went up from around the room. You’ve got to be kidding! At first, the concern was they were plastic. Then somebody said, “But we have paid eight dollars a piece for them. If they are plastic, they might be the same lilies used last year, and we paid eight dollars each last year. There was an instant buzz. Coffee hour was interrupted. Huddles formed. Somebody came up with a figure: 500 lilies, $8 each, 16 years; that’s $64,000 for the same lilies.

As I recall, the minister was new, and just as surprised as anybody. He gathered those who were upset and said, “I know the money has been put to a good use. It’s underwritten an emergency fund that helps folks in our community.” There were murmurs around the room, some approved, others did not.

To dispel the criticism, he tried to defend the practice another way: “After all, the plastic lilies are appropriate for Easter because they always bloom. They never die.”[1]

What do you think? I am thinking two things. First, these flowers up here are completely real. They are fragrant, they are beautiful, they remember the people we love, and they bring honor to the God who created them.  Second, that story I just told you is made up. April Fool!

Yet even though it is an invented tale, it can instruct us. There are more than a few “gotta be kidding me” moments in the Easter story we heard from the Gospel of Mark.

First, the big stone in front of the tomb is rolled away. Mark says it was a “mega stone,” very large. I once saw one of those ancient stones outside a grave in Jerusalem. It was designed to keep robbers out of the tomb, with the benefit of keeping someone inside. When the women arrive, the heavy stone is moved away. It’s hard to believe.

Next, there is the young man in white. Is he an angel? We don’t know; Mark has enough reverence that he doesn’t say. But this young man is sitting inside the tomb. He is calm, matter-of-fact, and completely in control of the moment. That doesn’t happen every day.

The three women are interrupted from their task. They had gone to anoint his body out of love and respect. His death had come so quickly. The burial was rushed because the Sabbath was at hand. So now they go to the tomb, and he’s not there. The women see this, women whose voice was silenced by a men-only culture. It reminds me of a Facebook notice that a friend put up: “Let’s have a more Biblical Easter. Only women can attend!”

And then, in the greatest “you’ve gotta be kidding me” moment, these women run away and don’t say anything to anybody. Really? Is that so? Then why are we here? How did we get the news?

Mark tells the Easter story in such a way that we are left scratching our heads. Is it true? Could Jesus be alive? He doesn’t say so conclusively, because that would reduce it to a mere fact, effectively shut it down, and dismiss it as a curious event of history. Rather, he tells the Easter story in such a way that it opens the whole thing up

Because what if it really has happened? What if Jesus is alive and still busy? What if the promise of the man in white is true – that if we go to Galilee, the place where Jesus did his work, we will see him? What if this Easter thing is more than something that happened a long time ago, and rather a way to unlock what God is doing here and now?

I will be the first to admit how I would love to have some tangible proof of the Resurrection. Wouldn’t be a relief, like Doubting Thomas, to put your finger in the nail holes and then watch his lungs rise and fall as he breathes? If that were the case, we could dispute his death, not his resurrection.

Every few years, some hotshot tries to do that, tries to out-think the crucifixion and say it didn’t really happen, that Jesus didn’t die – at least, not right away, that the whole thing was a scam to win over his feeble-minded disciples. My favorite sceptic was the so-called scholar who claimed the sponge dipped in vinegar that they handed to Jesus on the cross was dosed with a sedative. He swooned, they thought he was gone, they took him down, and then he revived sometime later. That’s an awful lot of speculation when everybody else agrees Jesus was dead.

The centurion said it. The small crowd nearby watched it. The authorities declared it. The man who donated the tomb knew it. Jesus was dead.

That, by the way, is what’s wrong with that goofy minister who had the five hundred plastic lilies in his church on Easter. Plastic lilies cannot die because plastic lilies never lived. If something or somebody never lived, then it cannot die. But here is the question that Easter raises: if someone dies, can they live again?

It is an unsettling question. Why else would these three women run from the tomb, traumatized and tongue-tied? That’s an easy one to answer: because everything they thought was settled is now actually unsettled. Jesus is not where they expected him to be.

It would be really easy for me to stand up here today and make a lot of noise, saying “He is risen from the dead! Be joyful. All is well. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry, be happy.” I could keep saying that. I ask the choir to sing something loud and ask the organist to let it roar. We could all depart, put on our white shoes, eat a lot of ham, and go about the same old business.

But what if it is true? What if it’s all really true?

What if the work of Galilee is now our work? What if we joined Christ in feeding the multitude, in restoring life, in building relationships? What if we joined him in confronting the addictions and the illnesses that destroy life? What if we sat with those who are sad and prayed with them beyond their distress? What if we stood up for those who are plundered by the powerful, declaring that all God’s children have equal worth? What if we marched with the kids who don’t want to be afraid when they go to school?

What if we lived as if we are alive with Jesus? There would be nothing plastic about it, nothing artificial, no hype, no self-congratulatory nonsense – just authentic expressions of love and self-giving service. If we could live like this, the confirmation will come, that Christ is risen and Easter is real. The life of the Risen Christ would infuse our lives.

That’s when we shall see him. And in that moment, Jesus will look us in the eye, smile, laugh, and nod in quiet affirmation.

Then he will look at the powers of death and say, “And you thought you were in charge? April

(c) William G .Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] Thanks to Fred Craddock, who invented the story in “The Waste of Easter.”