When the sun appears on the horizon this Easter morning, Christians will be out in force to see it. It has become a tradition to attend sunrise services on the day when the Lord’s resurrection is commemorated. Alongside the many Christians who go to the cemeteries, the mountainsides, the parks, and the beaches for the sunrise worship services will be many uncommitted people, roused from sleep by the call of tradition.

Traditions die hard. Most of Western Europe has a long weekend for Easter. Many businesses close on Thursday, not to reopen until the next Tuesday. The original idea was to allow workers time to attend a full schedule of religious services, starting with Maundy Thursday. Today the attendance at those services is pitifully small in most European churches, but the holiday is defended with great vigor.

Going out to watch the Easter dawn is not a bad tradition. Neither are the traditions of serving hot cross buns, hiding Easter eggs, or dressing up in new clothes, to go to church (or elsewhere). The problem with these and with many other traditions that Christians have developed in various cultures is that they no longer teach the truths they were intended to teach. These observances are, after all, little more than visual aids. Without accompanying verbal instruction they are not dependable teachers.

Sunrise services have continued to draw large crowds, perhaps because nature’s tribute to the resurrection is so striking a visual aid that the Biblical teaching comes easily to the preacher’s lips. People who hear the Gospel at no other public worship services do hear it on Easter morning. Could it be that once-a-year churchgoers attend on Easter because they expect the preacher to give them a word about eternity then, while they can not be sure of it any other time?

The appearance of the sun on the horizon marks the end of night and darkness, and the beginning of a new day filled with light. It is also a reminder of the first resurrection day. That first Easter sunrise was not just a sign of God’s faithfulness in keeping the cycle of nature going. The dawn’s light revealed the empty tomb to a grieving Mary. It said that her friend and Saviour had overcome one of nature’s certainties, death.

That first Easter dawn confirmed what the prophets had foretold and what Christ had taught his disciples: on the third day he did rise again.

That first Easter drove away doubt from Thomas and many other followers of Jesus. Their Lord was there, to see them and to be seen by them. Some did not immediately recognize him, to be sure. Why should they? Such a resurrection, in a glorified body, had never happened before. However, those who were willing to accept his return soon saw the characteristics that identified him to them.

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That first Easter spoke eloquently of God’s power over all the hierarchies of earth. No ecclesiastical authorities could thwart his plans. No government—not even that of the Romans—could do away with his ambassador.

That first Easter testified to God’s love in a new way. Not only had God sent his only son for the sins of the world, but now he was returning him to show that death had been conquered. The compassionate Christ walked again where people had to walk, listened to their problems, helped them physically, and assured them of God’s eternal provisions for them.

Easter says all this and so much more, then as now. These are facts, not fiction, and it is the Christian’s privilege to report them accurately. Unlike the father in Fiddler on the Roof who sang that traditions thwarted his purposes, Christians should make the most of those traditions that can help them teach the glorious truth of Christ’s resurrection and his conquest of death.

Restraining The Foes

At least since World War II, Jewish people have repeatedly shown their ability to perceive and assail anti-Jewish sentiments, even when Gentiles might see the offense as slight or even imaginary. The slogan “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” has been taken to heart. Recently, for example, the Nazi past of the man nominated as president of Rotary International was disclosed, and he was forced to withdraw. On the larger scene, outrage at the United Nations’ equation of Zionism and racism was widely conveyed.

Is this wrong? Not at all, so long as ethical forms of protest are employed. Even if the strategy backfires forty times out of a hundred, the sixty successes are worth it. For example, the number of Soviet Jews allowed to leave the U.S.S.R. was sizably increased, at least for a few years, as a result of international Jewish pressure. Hostility toward the Jews has been pervasive since their beginning and reached its barbaric climax during World War II, when the Germans murdered six million of them while the rest of the world refused to believe the reports.

To be sure, Jewish people are not the only ones who have been horribly persecuted. The massacre of Armenians by Turks during World War I was enormous. American Indians and aborigines on all continents continue to be the objects of scorn if not wrath. Also, those who captured, transported, and held black slaves will surely have much to answer for in the Day of Judgment.

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There is disturbing evidence that the persecution of Christians is increasing. The hostility from Marxism is generally recognized. (For one explanation of this, see the article by Romanian Baptist Josif Ton, March 26 issue, pages 6–9.) Anti-Communist governments can be repressive, too. Greece and Spain are examples of countries where both religious and political leaders have shown hostility to some Christians. Nationalism is a potent force when harnessed against an international movement such as Christianity; many African countries are making institutional life difficult for evangelicals and anyone else who does not give supreme loyalty to whatever government happens to be in power.

Christians should do their best to counter this hostility. They can learn a lesson from Jewish people who continually bombard the media, governments, businesses, and other religions with complaints about real or apparent anti-Jewish words and deeds. The Apostle Paul set another example for Christians. In Philippi he did not let the authorities cover up the fact that they violated their own procedures in beating and imprisoning him; he forced an apology (Acts 16:35–40). Later in Palestine he made use of his rights to avoid a scourging (Acts 22:25–29) and to appeal to a higher court when he feared he would not receive a fair trial (Acts 25:8–12).

Christians cannot escape all persecution. Paul writes, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). But neither should they court persecution or passively accept it for themselves or others when ethical means of resistance are available.

Evangelicals ought to establish the same kind of world network that their Jewish neighbors have, both to identify areas of difficulty and to mobilize appropriate action. The fact that there are so many denominations and organizations makes this difficult, but not impossible. The Jews have not had to abandon their various groups in order to work together toward certain goals. Neither would the evangelicals of the world be required to submit to any “pope” to keep up with cases of persecution. Such an effort could go a long way toward restraining the foes of the Gospel.

Carter’S Credibility

When John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency in 1960 he battled what was then “the religious issue.” That issue, a very potent one, was whether a Roman Catholic had enough of a mind of his own to be president; many Americans feared that a Catholic president would take orders from the Vatican. Kennedy turned the tide in his favor by convincing a lot of Southern Baptists that he believed in the separation of church and state.

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A different kind of religious issue is developing in the 1976 presidential campaign, and Southern Baptists are again involved, for the Democratic early leader is one of their own. A question already raised this year is whether in a political scene saturated with situationism a candidate who promises to be honest can survive.

It says something about the days in which we live that a simple vow of honesty can cause a controversy. Not so long ago a candidate’s promise not to lie would have been dismissed as redundant political rhetoric. Jimmy Carter now says, in fact, that he had not expected anyone to take notice of it. He adds in retrospect that it may have given the impression that he was throwing down a gauntlet. Whatever he intended, the net result was a focus on Carter’s credibility. A Washington Post reporter told him of “the seeming inability of the press to accept at face value your statements that you will not lie to the American people or mislead them.”

Situation ethics recognizes the right to lie under certain circumstances if one does it in genuine love. Conceivably the lie could be that one will not lie!

It is good that the question has been raised. It ought to be put to all the candidates. Can we, or should we, trust them? Christians in particular ought to be concerned about the ethical and religious convictions of those who aspire to the presidency. The basis upon which a leader makes his decisions is more important than what side he takes in current transient controversies.

A Promising Report Card For The Bible

Joseph Addison once gave some advice on writing with allusions. A good allusion “casts a kind of glory round it, and darts a luster through the whole sentence,” he explained in 1712. An allusion has as its purpose “to illustrate and explain the passages of an author” and “should be always borrowed from what is more known and common than the passages which are to be explained.” The Bible is the most common source for allusions in literature. Regrettably, for today’s readers the Bible is often less “known and common” than what allusions to it are intended to illumine. But with the rising interest in Bible-and-literature courses, that may change.

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Nicholas Piediscalzi, head of Wright State University’s religion department, reports that studies in high schools across the country show that more and more students are requesting Bible-and-literature courses. A study by the National Council of Teachers of English found that such courses rank in the top ten among high-schoolers. And on the college level Piediscalzi said the trend was away from Eastern religions to courses like Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, and Introduction to Western Religions.

To meet the need for good texts in this field Abingdon has begun a series called The Bible in Literature Courses. The first volume was Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives. The second, just published, is Biblical Images in Literature. Its essays deal with novels that “rely on the Bible to drive home a thematic point or a character trait.” That, writes editor Roland Bartel, “suggests how indispensable the Bible has become to the formation and understanding of our literature.” A new Scott, Foresman text for high-schoolers, The Bible as / in Literature, combines the purposes of the first two volumes of Abingdon’s series.

The whole field of religion and literature is growing in scholarly respectability. A journal founded twenty years ago by evangelicals, Christianity and Literature, is now indexed in the annual Publications of the Modern Language Association (PMLA) Bibliography, the primary bibliographical source for graduate students, professors, and scholars in literature. Those evangelical leaders are to be commended for an outstanding job in developing Christianity and Literature.

In high schools particularly, the trend toward studying the Bible is a result of the Supreme Court’s decision prohibiting compulsory prayer and Bible reading. What appeared to many Christians as a triumph of atheism may end up benefiting the Christian cause. At the least, more students will graduate from high school knowing some of what’s in the Bible than did in the days when many talked through compulsory “devotions.”

Too Soon Spring?

As if to spur Bicentennial tourism, spring weather arrived very early in some parts of the United States this year. A warm spell in February set the spring juices flowing, cutting winter short and pleasing almost everyone except skiers. Even people north of the Mason-Dixon Line were going about in what for February is sheer dishabille, leaving overcoats and fur hats at home. How nice it was to be spared the dreariness of late winter.

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Or was it? If there is a late freeze while fruit and nut trees are blooming, the effects will be felt for months to come. Growers will certainly feel it in their wallets. Summer and fall will not be as sweet and rich for the consumers who look forward to the tastes of fresh, ripe produce. Diets will not be as well balanced if the fruit and nuts are scarce. The absence of these favorites from the pantry will make the following winter seem bleaker.

All of life can be like that. Jumping the gun can be temporarily pleasant but strategically disastrous.

Anticipating, Participating

Of all the Old Testament verses mentioning “the house of the Lord,” probably the best known is Psalm 122:1. It is one of the first verses taught to many little children, and it is a favorite of many elderly Christians.

The verse speaks not only of the assembling of believers in the temple but also of anticipation at the prospect of going. The first phrase of the King James translation, memorized by millions, is “I was glad when they said unto me.…” The Psalmist was expressing joy that he had been invited to join those assembling to worship God. He was rejoicing in the knowledge that God’s people would be getting together. Whether he could join them in the temple or not, it was gratifying to him to know that a group of believers would gather.

Many Christians today echo this praise even though they are unable to go to God’s house. Those who are not strong or well enough to go, those confined in prisons, and those living under governments hostile to Christian worship can still be happy to know that Christians are meeting. They can rejoice in the knowledge that God’s Word will be preached and that God’s people will be praying together—perhaps for them. Those who cannot attend are thankful for the blessing that others will experience and can perhaps look forward to a day when they too can participate.

For the believer who is able to respond affirmatively to the suggestion “Let us go …,” the verse should mean even more. Not only should he be glad that someone has invited him, but he should be thankful that he can join others in worship. He can express his gratitude in various ways: by inviting others, by encouraging the church leaders, by offering his gifts (money, skills or talents, faithfulness, or whatever), and by prayerfully participating in worship.

The Christian who can get to God’s house has the happy privilege of being able to join others there in praising God. He also has the obligation to join others in praying with them, as the psalm says, “for the peace of Jerusalem.” Broadly interpreted, that petition is for all believers (those present and those not) as well as for civil peace.

Whether it is in a humble home, or a great cathedral, or a thatch-roofed hut out in the bush, the “house of the Lord” is a place to which believers should look with anticipation. When God’s Word is faithfully preached and his instructions for worship are followed, it will be a place of peace, a place to seek the good of all people.

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