The legacy of the empty tomb

Jesus rose from the dead and is free from the tomb. Let's leave Him that way.

It has been a week since we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb, and I am still wondering whether we have moved on to live out the Easter story beyond the graveyard.  Jesus overcame death and ascended to His Father, but in many ways we continue to keep him entombed by our very lives.

Although each of the four Gospels tell the resurrection story slightly different, they have some elements in common.  One commonality includes certain questions that the angels asked Jesus’ disciples when they came to the tomb on Easter morning.

According to Luke, an angel asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  In John’s gospel, Jesus asked, “Why do you weep?  Whom are you looking for?”

The disciples should have expected an empty tomb.  Jesus already told them that God was going to raise him on the third day.  Besides, Jesus was always on the move in his earthly ministry–“The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”–so they should have known that He was going to be on the move after his resurrection.

Jesus is still on the move.  He is not in the tomb. Nor is he some archaic historical figure that we can keep locked in a textbook.   Yet, that’s precisely how we think of Jesus sometimes.  Jesus lives and gives us abundant life, but we do not reflect that reality.  Often, our actions, words, and thoughts communicate that Jesus does not exist whatsoever.

Easter has passed, but we still find ourselves back at the tomb as if Jesus will be there.  We go back to the tomb of architecture–expecting Jesus to be encapsulated in our church structures, without any ability to move beyond those heavy, stone walls.

We entomb Jesus in our ideologies and our opinions, as if Jesus remains in the stagnate thoughts of humanity’s limited understanding of God.  We treat him like some file-folder we can pull out whenever we need Him.  Jesus makes a convenient appearance now and then when we are fighting a culture war or debate.

We entomb Jesus in our worship preferences, assuming that He is only pleased with one style of worship or another.  We assume that we find Jesus only when we sing certain hymns or sing praise-and-worship or preach the lectionary or have Mass.

We entomb Jesus in our foreign policy, always arguing that Jesus is on the side of just war and liberty.  That tomb is very important because as long as He remains there, we can ignore the myriad of verses in which Jesus talks about forgiving our enemies.

Don’t forget our tomb of domestic policies as well.  When we return to this tomb, we realize that Jesus looks like the rest of us and cares about the things that we care about:  the American Dream, a Cadillac, and an air-conditioned home filled with trinkets and appliances made in China.

Why do we look for the living among the dead?  Perhaps its because we forget that Jesus is living in the first place.  “Do not hold on to me,” Jesus told Mary Magdalene on Easter morning.

This Lord is not someone whom we can hold or control, pin down or predict.  Jesus is always on the move and breaking out of the tombs that we often establish; Jesus works in places, people, and ideas where we least expect it.

In at least two Gospels, the angels tell the women that Jesus went ahead of the disciples to Galilee.  Jesus was not at the tomb because he was alive, and he went to Ground Zero–the beginning–where all things began.

May our hearts and minds also be where Jesus is, at the source of God’s very divine purpose for humanity rather than at the tombs that we construct from our limited perspectives.

Good citizen, good Christian: The Obligation of Jury Duty

Is jury duty a blessing or bane?

The other day, when our church’s administrators and I were hanging around the office, one of the administrators mentioned she had jury duty next week.  Jury duty–just the sheer phrase makes us take a deep breath.

Without asking whether or not she wanted advice, the other administrator and I talked about ways to get out of jury duty.   Our conversation was as natural as drinking water; I didn’t give it a second thought.

Upon reflection–the next day I believe it was–I started to think about our response to the administrator.  We assumed that she wanted to get out of jury duty.  We didn’t stop and ask whether she felt blessed to serve her county, let alone her country, in this capacity.

God works (and speaks!) in mysterious ways, because it wasn’t two days later that I heard a lawyer on some random radio talk show speak about the privilege of jury duty.

Privilege?  I never served jury duty (never been asked), but all I hear is how much time it takes, how lousy the pay is, and how mediocre the food could be.  My dad always despised it because he was a one-man small business owner, and one day spent in jury duty compromised the amount of bread he put on our dinner table.

As I was listening to this lawyer, however, something changed in my thinking on this subject.

Jury duty is one of the primary ways of flexing our constitutional muscles–specifically the third article and sixth amendment of said Constitution.  There was a time before the War of American Independence when Britain was abusing American colonialists by taking people to court with naval trials–some of which were held on ships off the American coast.

As British subjects, these colonialists decried that the trials were partial–the accused were not being judged by their peers.  Abuse of this system was rampant, especially when King George III really wanted those Americans to pay their stamp, tea, and sugar taxes.

This abuse was one of the reasons why the war for independence took place.  When our country’s forefathers crafted the Constitution, they made sure to learn from history and not repeat the mistakes of the past.  They guaranteed every American a speedy trial by a jury made up of one’s peers.

This constitutional right was a tenuous one, especially in cases involving race and gender.  Before the 1960s, most minorities were tried by white juries; most of the jurists were men.  It wasn’t until after the Civil Rights movement that we finally gained a truly just and fair system.

It is that very system that we try to shun today.  If everyone is looking to get out of the jury pool, then what peers will be left to insure a fair trial for the accused?  Jury duty is both an honor and a privilege, and it insures that the integrity of our judicial system is held accountable.

When Paul wrote his letter to churches in Rome, he addressed a Christian’s obligation to the state.  The Roman Christians, not dissimilar from us, were trying to use their faith in Christ to abstain from civic duty.  Many stopped paying taxes.

In Romans 13:1, 7, Paul combated this line of thinking: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servant, busy with this very thing.”

I know that when I get my jury duty card in the mail, I will have the same thoughts as many others.  Serving will be inconvenient and tiresome.  But from the perspective of God’s Word, I am obligated–and blessed–to serve in this long judicial tradition.   What an honor it will be to not only serve my country, but to serve God as well.

The Sluggish Journey of Christian Formation

Mid-term elections have come and gone and, despite apocalyptic campaign adds, the world did not end after all.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  The rotation of the earth still takes a full 24 hours, and New Year’s Eve will fall on the 365th day as scheduled.

In the days to come, we will see if our elected officials can turn cheap talk and bitter rhetoric into actual legislation.  Many of them will find that, despite the excitement of campaigns, the daily grind of governing is not all that spectacular.  Much of it is downright boring and routine.

This reminds me of the Christian life sometimes.  When we become a Christian, we most likely make the decision in the throes of lofty, redemptive rhetoric.  Our conversion experiences and baptisms, first communions and commissionings are exciting events.   Enthusiasm runs high.  We read our Bibles with fervor.  We can’t wait to share the Gospel with everyone we meet, even our pets.

Eventually, we realize that our journey of faith is not always so emotional.   We have to do the hard work of living out our salvation on a day-to-day basis where our jobs, families, neighborhoods, and hobbies intersect.    We put one foot in front of the other in the midst of messiness and conflict, fragile families and failing economies.

The difficult task of walking with Christ can get mundane.  We can easily forget to pray or read our Bibles.  Our ancient, sacred traditions do not always relate to our current culture.   In all honesty, even clergy can become bored now and then.

Like politicians who must eventually govern in spite of the excitement of an election season, we must eventually get to the place where we relate to Christ with unyielding love despite emotional whims that come and go.

It’s like practicing scales repeatedly on a musical instrument.  It is tedious work, but it allows students to master both the instrument and the notes.  By the time the student performs, she knows those notes so intimately, she makes playing the instrument seem easy.  The regimen of a committed life fully transforms random notes into prayerful music–a work of art made in honor of art’s Master.

In Luke 7:18-23, John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus whether or not Jesus was the messiah, God’s anointed one, who would usher in a new era of God’s salvation.   Everyone back then, John included, expected the messiah to come on the scene in a blaze of glory, raising an unstoppable army to overthrow the Roman Empire.

John had his doubts about Jesus because Jesus did not raise an army.  Jesus did not campaign to raise funds from the aristocracy.  Rather, Jesus spent time with the poor and powerless.  There was no demonstration of military power, only an anticlimactic Gospel message that emphasized reconciliation and forgiveness over violence and retaliation.

Jesus’ was a sluggish movement that inspired a consistent work ethic instead of heated speeches.   Consider that Jesus’ ministry took place over a three-year time span that began after thirty years of preparation.  The four evangelists–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–only record the most exciting moments in this history; the rest was just daily grind stuff–Jesus changed the world with baby steps and a simple dedication to God’s will.

We often move from one experience to another, overdosing on entertainment, over-stimulation, and sugar-highs.  The Christian life, however, is one lived out in conformity to a God that is not always so exciting.  15th-century saint, Thomas A’Kempis once wrote: “Thou art called to endure and to labour, not to a life of ease and trifling talk.”  That’s good advice in an age tall on promises but short on long-term commitment.