Have you ever thought about what your reactions might have been if you had lived at the time of the Resurrection Event and someone excitedly tried to tell you that the Master who had been crucified a few days earlier was no longer dead? It is easy for us with the benefit of a continuing community that has affirmed its belief in the Resurrection to gather annually around the symbolic empty tomb and sing, "Christ the Lord is Risen today, Alleluia!" But, would we have easily accepted the outrageous claims of women? The vehement assertions of uneducated peasants? The pious platitudes of babbling fishermen? Furthermore, would we have trusted our senses if we had heard or seen the voice and figure of the crucified now risen? I donÂ¹t think so. I think when we are really honest with ourselves the Apostle who is most like us is Thomas with his doubts and his questions.
But Thomas was not alone. The way I read the Gospel stories indicates to me that many did not believe and that the early followers had to hear again and again the stories and that the repetition and insistence in the Gospel stories obeys a desire on the part of new followers to really see, to really touch, to really hear the Risen One.
The Gospel Lesson from Luke starts with the exciting ending of what we usually call the Road to Emmaus story. This story has been a favorite of mine because it helps me avoid encounters with the Risen Christ except as I find him present in Scripture, in the conversations and dialogue with other Christians and in the breaking of the bread. The Risen One is with us symbolically; I do not have to deal with what might have really happened. But the excitement of the disciples from Emmaus is followed by the apparition of the Risen Christ.
The reaction of the Disciples is congruent with the disbelief you and I would have had during those first days after the Resurrection of Christ. The reaction of the disciples is congruent with the disbelief you and I would have had during those first days after the Crucifixion of Jesus; they were startled and terrified. That makes me feel better; they might not have expressed their doubts like Thomas but their reaction upon seeing Christ is more congruent with disbelief. They did not believe the Women at the tomb, they did not believe Simon, they did not believe the disciples from Emmaus and now, they could not trust their own senses and were startled and terrified. And, yet, these were the very same people who soon after faced the derision and persecution of others proclaiming that Christ is the Lord and that Christ lives. That too brings them closer to me and my own struggles of faith.
I believe, Lord, help my unbelief and then I go out and try to live a life that says to all that Christ lives and that Christ is Lord.
The early disciples did not believe in the Resurrection as something they could just proclaim. They had to live it; they had to do the Resurrection.
The Epistle text picks up this notion of doing our faith. In the first letter of John we read in several places that the doing of the right is what proves that we are children of God. This is a statement written in light of the Easter faith. The writer does not provide a long list of witnesses who make his claim truer; rather, he presents as proof the behavior of those who make the outrageous claim that they are children of God, descendants and followers of the Resurrected one.
Listen to the Words from John: Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous--all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.
Christianity did not spread like wildfire in the short time after the death and resurrection of Christ strictly on the strength of better philosophical or theological explanations. According to the book of the Acts of the Apostles, God added new people every day based on the way the early church took care of the needs of the poor, the widow, the orphan. In other words, God added new members in the measure in which our forebears were doing the Resurrection.
The Easter stories were written for the benefit of those who had not been exposed to the courageous actions of the first disciples who set out to turn the world upside down believing in the Eternal Presence of One who had walked among them. The first generation of followers of Jesus joined forces with those who enthusiastically and courageously were going about doing the Resurrection. It was only necessary to start writing stories after the first generation of missionaries died and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the return of Christ, which some thought was going to happen soon, was delayed. Then and only then did the stories get written to address the doubts of those who like me and you did not have direct connection with the passion and enthusiasm of the first believers.
Our task then is to get behind the details of the accounts to the passion and commitment that generated the stories we now find so unbelievable. If we do that then we too will be empowered to do the Resurrection story for our own generation. People will believe more when they see us acting in ways that are congruent with the incredible claim that Christ is Risen. This claim must be accompanied by death-defying acts of righteousness.
During the month of April, the 30th anniversary of Earth Day was observed. On the surface we may not suppose that caring for the Earth and our Easter faith are connected. Yet if we are willing to do the work needed to uncover relations and connect dots, we will discover that the defense of the environment may well end up being the most important way of demonstrating that we indeed believe in the Risen Christ.
Ever since we were able to see earth from outer space, a new awareness has entered into our consciousness that we are living in a very small and vulnerable planet. The Big Blue Marble and Spaceship Earth have been two ways to describe the fragile home we inhabit. Another expression has also been used, the Global Village. This last term is one that is more ambiguous than the other two. For some it does connote a small, fragile and threatened world that we need to care for. Unfortunately for others this Global Village is perceived as an expanded market place. The Global Village is under the threat of global pillage.
Professor John Cobb, now Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, has turned his keen mind to address the issues of environmental degradation for almost the three decades since Earth Day has been celebrated. He first sounded the alarm in a book entitled, Is it Too Late? And just last year he continued his relentless defense of the earth in a book entitled, The Earthist Challenge to Economism: A Theological Critique of the World Bank. Cobb believes that the dominant power in the world today, and hence a God or religious system, is Economism. The main force opposed to Economism is Earthism, the protection and defense of the earth. Cobb acknowledges that allegiance to anything other than God is idolatrous, but he believes that for now and the immediate future our faith in God, and us Christians, our faith that God has acted definitively in the ministry, death and resurrection of Christ, must be expressed through Earthism, a passionate and committed defense of the Earth, our God-given home.
The perception that Economism is a modern deity is also presented by Harvard theologian Harvey Cox. In an article published in March of last year in "Atlantic Monthly" under the title, "The Market as God," Cox tells the story of the sale of the entire village of Liebenberg. This town was located in the former East Germany and according to the unification treaty could indeed be sold. Cox continues:
They (the villagers) had certainly loathed communism, but when they opted for the market economy that reunification promised, they hardly expected this. Liebenberg includes a thirteenth century church, a Baroque castle, a lake, a hunting lodge, two restaurants and 300 acres of meadow and forest.
Cobb and Cox clearly see and point out that in our day and age the Easter faith must be expressed by a courageous opposition to the merchandising of lakes, forests, churches and villages. It may be easier to believe in someone coming back from the dead than summoning the necessary courage to paddle against the stream and defend the earth against those that quantify and merchandise its parts.
In the case of the Easter people you and I claim to be, the belief in a Risen Lord is the source of that courage and passion.
There is a wonderful Easter Hymn entitled "Easter People, Raise Your Voices." The hymn implies that risen voices must accompany the Risen Savior in the many endeavors that still need to be addressed. The second verse in that hymn is more convincing to me than all the Road to Emmaus stories and all the empty tombs tales. It goes:
Fear of death can no more stop us from our pressing here below.
For our Lord empowered us to triumph over every foe.
Alleluia! Alleluia! On to victory now we go.
That is the bottom line. The first followers of Jesus were not satisfied with telling an incredible story, they moved on to incredible feats and so must we. Easter people, raise your voices.
Let us pray.
Our loving God, you acted decisively in history by raising Christ from the dead. Breathe new life in all of us who dare to call ourselves Christians that we might add death-defying deeds to our death-defying faith. We pray in the name of the Risen Christ. Amen.