Today the Risen Lord of the Church still “stirs up the people” and sends us into the world to witness and to work
He lives! God is not dead! And because he lives, we celebrate. We celebrate Jesus.
Jesus, no martyred saint or fallen hero, no frail and gentle memory, no fading echo and dimming afterglow, but living Love—victorious, strong, enduring still. We celebrate him as Lord of all. My God and King!
Death, bend your stiff neck. Bow your proud head, for we celebrate Jesus. Death, you are no match for Love. It is presumptuous to think that you can hold him fast. Your reign is broken. He lives. He has won, and in his victory your crown is struck from your head.
God is not dead. “He stirs up the people,” they said. They said it about Jesus when God walked the streets of time and space for those brief years. It was true. But it was not only true then. It is true today, for he lives.
I cannot escape him, this Living One. When I celebrate him, he gets me into trouble. I want to be just a face in the crowd. I want to hide, but he keeps drawing me out and I am afraid. I want to run!
Why are you such a high-voltage presence, Lord Jesus? Why must my choice be between you and my pleasant stagnation? Why can I not celebrate “in peace,” in comfortable aloofness from the festering facts in our human situation? Why must you, the Prince of Peace, come as the Messenger of strife? Why? Why?
Because you live.
“He stirs up the people … teaching.…” What a frightening definition of teaching. And yet, I find it to be true. To celebrate Jesus in reflection is always to be prodded into action. To be taught by him is to be stretched, and I fight that. It hurts to be stretched. Can it be that all learning is change and change is pain?
When I listen to Jesus, I can’t stop with formal mastery of facts. Fierce street fights break out along the avenues and back alleys of my mind. New thoughts engage old prejudices, and big burly lies challenge truth’s right to the road. I am anxious, and again I want to run. But we celebrate Jesus, and in faith’s fellowship you and I may learn to stand.
He lives! He lives! We will repeat it. Words shatter under their burden as they try to say it. All language fails, and our best doxologies break into wordless wonder and silent awe. But the Word finds words for his purpose, inadequate though they be. Though they cannot say it all, they are enough, enough for you and me.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
No, God is not dead. And to you who have said this, we who celebrate Jesus quietly affirm that it is not so. If you mean that our God is hidden, that he is the God who hides in the testing circumstances of our dangerous time as he once hid in diapers and on the Cross, we agree. He is not only the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. He is the “hidden God” as well. But he is not dead.
If your intent is only to raise some questions that we may not ignore, then raise them—but not with words that mislead and even blaspheme! If your purpose is to say that we are dead to his loving approaches, say this; but do not presume to fashion a death bed for God. Death is death, and if God were dead no tongue could tell it. No man could proclaim it, for it is by the creating and sustaining hand of the Ever-living One that we live.
“And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,” says our ancient creed. I come to the Scriptures in order to celebrate Jesus. I come remembering what a friend has said: that a love letter must be read for what it is; that a young woman receiving an urgent message of proposal from one who loves her will not read it as an English composition, though it is that, nor as data on courtship in our culture, though it is that, too; she will read it for what it is, a heart’s expression of a great longing, the longing to be one! This is what the Bible is to me, God’s message of longing and willingness, but more than that, God’s news that all barriers have been broken down, that I am accepted and forgiven.
“Father.” When I say that in faith and trust, I celebrate Jesus, for “when we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Where there is Easter there is Christmas and Pentecost, too. Whenever I say, either alone or with you, “Our Father,” I celebrate my baptism into the body of Christ.
I know that life is single file. It is true, as Luther said, that “every man must do his own believing even as every man must do his own dying.” Remembering that there is a world of difference if I say only “he is risen” and do not affirm that he is risen for me, I place myself before his face. I build my house of life on this Rock, that “he has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, bought and freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with his holy and precious blood, and with his innocent sufferings and death.”
Today the Lord of the Church “stirs up the people.” He arrests us and addresses us. He calls and sends. He asks his Church to leave her sheltering walls and walk the streets with him. He uncovers long-forgotten issues. He exposes frontiers more vast than any we have ever known before. I am a member of this Church, but my temptation is to “send him to Herod.” I have been well schooled in this art of sending him to “someone else.” I still like “truth in the sky” better than Truth in the flesh, wearing work clothes. I prefer to think of Love rather than acts of love and Justice rather than acts of justice.
In a world that is glutted on trivia and sick unto death of itself, a world starving for the daily doxology of loving service, the holy liturgy of self-giving and fellowship, we affirm: No, God is not dead. He lives. And “no one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
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