Easter Justice and a thirst for righteousness

 

One of last things Jesus said before he died on the cross was, “I thirst.”  It is hard to imagine the very Savior who promised a woman by the well (John 4) everlasting water being thirsty, but he was.  Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to this illusive Easter text.

We live in a desolate and parched time.  The government is gridlocked; ISIS is sweeping across Africa and the Middle East; a precarious presidential election has nearly nose-dived into the gutter.  Black lives matter; gay and lesbian youth are committing suicides at an unprecedented rate due to bullying and discrimination.  Income inequality is at its greatest since the Great Depression.  Businesses and churches are surviving against all odds.

I can’t understand why Jesus thirsted, but I know why I thirst.  I thirst because we still have to live in a world in which Jesus’ Kingdom-vision, one of peace, liberation, redemption, and embrace has yet to be realized.

Easter happened.  Jesus arose from the grave.  He promised eternal life to those who believe; but, we are still living in the times between Good Friday and silent Saturday of our own souls.  We haven’t experienced resurrection with our Savior yet.  We stand, instead, between death and Jesus’ Second Coming.

Until Jesus comes with a final trumpet sound to inaugurate once and for all God’s reign on heaven and earth, I thirst.

I guess that when Jesus said “I thirst,” he was referring to Psalm 69.  At least that’s what the notes in my Study Bible say. But what if Jesus had Psalm 42 in mind instead?

As a deer longs for flowing water, so my souls longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and behold the face of God?  My tears have been my food day and night” (v. 1-3).

What if Jesus said “I thirst” because he wants us to remember his Sermon on the Mount?   While we mourn at the cross, we may recall that Jesus’ Sermon mandated that we still have work to do, even in the midst of our own thirst: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6).

Righteousness is a biblical term that means “to be in right relationship with,” and it is a benchmark of God’s activity on earth.  Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, God’s desire was to reconcile that ruptured relationship, to put things right.

Jesus must have thirsted for righteousness because his death was the next step in this process of reconciliation.

I too thirst for righteousness that includes advocating for justice and mercy and kindness in a world very much in need of repairing.

I thirst for righteousness because I want to fight for what’s right in the world in order to see balanced budgets, terrorism abated, peaceful conclusions to war, and a more equitable tax code and quality of life for all lives.

Before he was crucified, Jesus told parables and healed the sick and ate with tax collectors and sinners.  He said that the reign of God–the very kingdom of God–had come to earth and was in our midst.

This reign was more than a fancy idea or personal wish; the reign drew heaven’s goal and earth’s future closer together so that God’s will would be accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Although I thirst still, I am thankful that Jesus is indeed the Everlasting Water who gives us a chance to spread God’s righteousness even in the least expected places, like at the local halfway house or in Congress.

I thirst, but it is God who nourishes us with hope that one day even broken legislatures and warring enemies will eventually bow to His lordship.

An Easter community inspires mutual welcome between strangers


What does it mean to be Easter people, a people who have seen Christ embrace us from atop a cross in spite of our sin?  It means accepting God’s hospitable invitation to new way of being community for one another.

In a recent Christian Century article, ethicist Christine Pohl states that a best practice for building healthy congregations is to nurture inclusive hospitality.  That means we Christians can take risks to welcome others because they may be “angels unawares” and include them in a community of faith in order to encourage social justice and compassion.

Most of us, especially those who have lived in the south for a long time, have become good at hospitality.  Our doors are open to neighbors.  Our churches have welcome signs for guests in our parking lots.

That’s all wonderful, but the type of hospitality that Pohl advocates and that Easter initiates goes beyond a mere handshake and warm smile.  Biblical hospitality not only encourages the welcoming of strangers in our midst, it also means allowing those very strangers to be comfortable enough to cast off their strangeness.

Late feminist scholar Lettie Russell describes this radical hospitality in her book, Just Hospitality.  She argues that biblical hospitality is a catalyst for divine interactions that advocates for and includes the marginalized and outcast.

She also states that hospitality includes mutual welcome, which is to have the courage to welcome others who don’t look like us, believe like us, or even act like us.  It also means having courage to allow those same people welcome us into their lives and world.

Isn’t mutual welcome what God offers us at Easter: Jesus embraces us “just as we are,” and in return we welcome Christ into our lives as well?

Jesus promoted and modeled mutual welcome not only in his death and resurrection, but in his earthly ministry as well.  Jesus was the hospitable divine host for many people, like tax collectors and sinners, or the 5000 people who came to him hungry and thirsty for God’s word.

But Jesus also allowed others to welcome him and serve him.  Zacchaeus, a tax collector–and surely a sinner by his day’s standards–was happy to “welcome” Jesus into his home (Luke 19:6).  Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus and his disciples into their home; and two disciples welcomed the Risen Lord to eat supper with them while on journey to Emmaus.

Jesus’ mutual welcome also meant putting some scoundrels and sinners in positions of leadership.  Peter was Jesus’ right-hand man even though he was going to deny Jesus three times.  Judas was Jesus’ treasurer.  Women, many of whom were not proper enough for marriage or acceptance in greater society, became the first ones to preach his resurrection to fear-filled disciples on Easter morning.

In Mark 9:33-41, there is an instance in which the disciples forbade an exorcist from casting out demons in Jesus’ name because the exorcist did not follow them.  The exorcist was not a “member” of their little church.

Jesus responded that they should not forbid the exorcist.  For one thing, Jesus said, if the exorcist was not against him, then the exorcist was for him.

And second, the disciples should not fear losing their “blessing” if they accept a cup of water–(in other words, ministry)–from such a one as this stranger.  Mutual welcome defeats fear and inspires a new Easter community in which strangers and misfits can all minister in Jesus’ name (see Jesus’ “set up” for this conversation with the disciples in Mark 9:37).

Easter’s radical hospitality dares us to reach out to strangers.  It also dares us to go beyond a handshake and see how Christ can minister to us and our churches–even by including such folks in positions of leadership if the Spirit so moves–via those very strangers.

Like Christ on the cross who made a way for sinners to be reconciled to God, so too do we stand with our arms outstretched to endorse the mutual welcome that brings us all into a new way of being community.  Misfits and all.