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.

The day after Easter: Fear and Joy

jm_200_NT2.pd-P21.tiffAccording to Matthew’s gospel, on the morning that Jesus rose from the dead, several women were commissioned to tell the disciples all that had taken place.

It says that they left the tomb “with fear and great joy” (28:8).

Fear and joy is not a likely pair.  Usually, we experience one or the other.  We fear of those things we do not understand or are uncertain about; and joy over the things in which we are confident and hopeful.

The women were fearful and filled with joy, however, because that’s what happened when they confronted the greatest truth known to humanity: that in raising Jesus from the dead, God began a new work in which the kingdom of heaven broke into our earthly realm in a mighty and transformative way.

Ever since they joined Jesus, the disciples knew that there was something about this fellow from Galilee.  He healed the sick, partnered with outcasts, spoke with authority that stumped the religious officials, and performed miracles.

It was frightening to be in Jesus’ presence: Each disciple recognized that their lives were at stake, and each disciple had to choose every day whether they would follow Jesus.

At the end of Holy Week, however, that fear came to a crescendo as their Lord was executed in the worst way possible.  The disciples ran for the hills; it wasn’t Jesus they feared, it was Rome and the Jewish authorities who put to death the only hope they had.

Why did the women fear, then, if they knew that Jesus rose from the dead?  Wouldn’t they have remembered all that Jesus told them about having to die for the sins of the world and overcome death itself so that those who believed would receive eternal life?

They were fearful because the resurrection event confounded their very beliefs in what was possible.  No one before that time had ever been resurrected from the dead in the way that Jesus was.  He was now at the right hand of God, and all authority had been granted unto him.

That was an awesome premise, and it made the women shake in their boots.

The women were also filled with great joy.  God certainly did something in and through Jesus Christ that caused them to be scared, but there was an unyielding notion that Jesus’ resurrection insured all of their resurrections when that great Day of the Lord finally arrived.

Jesus’ life and presence guaranteed that their lives would also inevitably be different.  They would have access to God under the umbrella of grace, mercy, and reconciliation.  Who wouldn’t feel profound joy in that truth?

Even today, nearly two thousand years later, we experience faith with a profound sense of fear on the one hand and inexplicable joy in the other hand.

In the death and resurrection of Christ, we catch glimpses of our present (death) and our future (resurrection).  Fear and joy, indeed.

But we also fear the Risen Christ to the point that we avoid him sometimes.  We don’t invite him fully into our lives.  We hide things from him.  We cower in the shadows when his light pierces our darkness.

Although this particular word, “fear”, in the Bible may also be translated as awe, I like to think that fear is accurate in this context because we are afraid of God no matter how much we know God’s grace covers us for all eternity.

Joy is also present in our lives because when Christ died, our old life died with him.  Jesus’ life represents the freedom that comes with God’s total forgiveness.

Rudolph Otto, in his book The Idea of the Holy, noted that people experience God as one who is “mysterium tremendum et fascinans.”  He is mysterious and tremendous, and because of that, God’s presence is intimidating.

But God is fascinating: We know that God’s agenda for our life and for all creation is something that fills us with unspeakable peace that surpasses all understanding.

As we come to God, we may have confusing, conflicting feelings of both fear and joy.  In the end, however, we worship a living Savior who accepts us just as we are.

 

Easter Christ-Clothes include compassion and forgiveness

baby-bunny-costumeLike most ministers, I look forward to Easter every year at church.  We have special services, breakfast, and see families who are visiting from out of town. Everyone wears their best Easter clothes, and I wear my Easter bow tie.  This will be about the eighth Easter in a row that I’ve worn one.

Easter is exciting not only because of the fancy clothes we wear, but because Christ gives us spiritual clothing as well.  In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us that the spiritual clothes God gives are for those who “have been raised with Christ” and “seek the things that are above” (3:1).

A person can’t put on spiritual clothing, however, without taking off the old clothing of the world.  Paul encouraged Christians to “strip off the old self” and take off “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language” (3:9, 8).

Notice how all of these clothes have to do with our speech and attitudes towards others.  We wear our words, and our speech shows people who we really are.  Our words reveal our heart:  “It’s not what goes into a person that defiles,” Jesus once said, “but what comes out of a person’s mouth” (Matt. 15:11).

This is very relevant for an Easter people concerned with being a witness for Christ.  We are called to bring tidings of Good News, and our words must communicate and reflect this Good message.

Communication of Good News is not limited to what we say.  It also includes our social networking correspondences; it includes how we express our perceptions of others.  Our words can cause harm by perpetuating stereotypes or bigotry; they can abuse or cause malice.  We can wield WMDs: “words of mass destruction.”

Paul’s Easter message to the Colossians, among other things, was to strip off these worldly clothes.  Instead, he insisted that Christians put on “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12).

This wardrobe has to do with our words, our attitudes, and our behavior.  Note, however, that these attributes get past words and go right to the heart.  We may use kind words and be polite, we may smile and say many pleasantries, but that doesn’t mean our heart is in the right place.

A spirit of compassion inspires words and a posture of kindness precisely because it inspires the ability to “bear with one another” and forgive one another (3:13).    Only a Christ-formed heart can bear with others; only a redeemed life can experience forgiveness and extend it even to those who don’t deserve forgiving.

After Easter, we are all called to speak about, speak according to, and exhibit God’s grace–there is no excuse to do otherwise.  “Above all else,” Paul said, “clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14).

This is quite difficult in our nation.  Our society–as represented in technology, media, and partisan punditry–actually dissuades harmony.  In fact, much of our political and public discourse is outright hostile to a spirit of harmony.  It divides, usurps, destroys, and dismantles–any talk of being inclusive, tolerant, kind, or compassionate is seen as weak and ideologically “liberal”.

But Christians have no choice other than promote harmony even if it means being in community with people who don’t agree.  Christ was persecuted and executed precisely because he advocated on behalf of a diverse group of people, from sinners  to tax collectors to prostitutes.  Likewise, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 22-24) because he brought together Jews and Gentiles, a diverse lot if there ever was one.

Even in the midst of difference and debate, Paul pushed for a community that prized harmony and compassion over competition and vitriol.  His Christ-clothes pushed a singular agenda:  to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

Before Easter, we simply had no choice but stumble around in our worldly clothing.  Our sinful nature consumed all of who we were; but, when Christ defeated sin on our behalf and forgave us, we got a new wardrobe that is as white as snow.  Now, all we have to do is let our words and actions reflect this squeaky-clean attire.