How then shall we live?
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Colossians 3:3-4 and John 20:6-9
You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Peter went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
Did he, or didn't he rise from the dead? As Mary Morrocco wrote in her devotion for today, "You stand there at the tomb and wonder. Everything looks the same, but everything feels different.
"Truly it is easier to believe in Good Friday than in Easter Sunday. Yet the Easter Alleluia is being sung to us every day ..."
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
A minute after midnight is the time to reach in deep within myself and proclaim the presence of Jesus. My darkness seems intact. Not yet are there even traces of the coming morning. As I mouth the words of the Easter proclamation, once again the mystery ... everything looks the same, but everything feels different:
Of this night scripture says:
The night will be as clear as day;
it will become my light, my joy.
The power of this holy night
dispels all evil,
washes guilt away,
restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred,
brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.
Night truly blessed
when heaven is wedded to earth
and we are reconciled with God! *
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been in prison for months. Everything looked the same ...
He was praying more than ever before, yet he felt no special sense of God's presence. He was starting to think that true faith did not involve feelings at all - that it was instead the God-given ability to respond in love to the world as it was. Faith was no escape hatch from the power of evil men; true faith often placed one directly in the grip of evil.
Andrew White is an Anglican priest in Baghdad. In an Easter epistle he writes:
I know I have the best parish in the world. Yes it is rather different than most, but it is wonderful. The journey to church is different than any other vicar experiences. I leave my trailer with my body armour and armoured helmet on. My body guards surround me as I get into the armoured vehicle. We drive through the International Zone, through many army check points, and finally into the ordinary streets. Half a mile away is the church. The Church of St George is surrounded by razor wire and bomb barricades.
The Special Forces know that I am arriving and have surrounded the Church and cut off the road. My security team searches the church and the churchyard and ensures with our church guards that there are no unknown people in the building. They give me the all-clear and, at last, I can go into my church.
Today is Easter and when I cry out in Arabic "Alleluia Al Masiah Kahm" (Alleluia, Christ is risen!) the people will reply "Kahma Beltakid Alleluia" (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!), and they will mean it.
This church has grown from ten cautious members in 2003 to more than 1300 today, in spite of greater persecution. Many of White's congregation come from Nineveh. Iraqi Christians cherish stories about Jonah and Thomas, two missionaries of God to their country (who both had their own problems).
The other day I asked my people who of them had a loved one killed or injured in the past two years. They ALL responded positively. For them death is in the midst of life, therefore resurrection is their only hope.
Rev. White's second congregation, mostly soldiers and diplomats, meets at the US Embassy. But his group at St. George has many facets:
The other week we had our service in one of the Government offices. Ali turned up and wanted to know why I had not told him all the children were coming. Ali is a leader in one of the major terrorist groups. I quickly thought to myself, "I don't usually tell the terrorists where our children are going to be."
He told me that he wanted to give them all presents. He left the room and returned a few minutes later, this time with piles of children's Bibles. A few hours later (services are long) I looked at the Bibles only to discover that they were the precise ones that had been stolen on their way into Iraq recently!
I mention this because, for the children, this was part of their Easter story. One little girl told me the Bible had come to them because Jesus is alive. Because He is alive He would ensure that whatever was meant for them would be given to them. Even if by a terrorist, it was an act of God.
For us in Baghdad today, God is alive and real.
As I write the sun has risen. The birds sing outside my window. Blue skies, red tulips, green grass ... bright spring winds wash away gray. Pastel thoughts brighten. Did Jesus rise from the dead, or didn't he?
I can live my life either way.
Let me die, Lord, and rise up with you and walk in your path all the livelong day.