By Paul Baxley
This morning, Christians gather all over the nation, and indeed all over the world, to celebrate the Third Sunday of Easter. With our songs, our prayers, our reading and our preaching, we continue to proclaim that Christ has been raised from the dead! The very same one who died a horribly violent death has been resurrected. Death, at its very worst, has been overcome by resurrecting power and relentless love. Like St. Paul just decades after that first Easter, we announce:
Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
But we gather for worship after a week that has felt much more like Good Friday. After all, Good Friday is about anger, hatred, irrational violence, the piercing, crushing and shattering of human bodies, and the hasty, casual tossing aside of the body of Jesus even without a proper burial. On Good Friday, the world leverages its very worst at Jesus; the depth of human sinfulness is laid bare.
Hasn’t that been our experience this past week? And for so much longer? Not only are we still surrounded by fomenting anger in our public spaces that sounds like the taunts of Good Friday, but we are also still seeing human bodies shattered and torn, not by nails and spears but by bullets and rage.
Barely had the songs of last Sunday’s worship subsided when 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer outside Minneapolis, even as the officer who killed George Floyd almost a year earlier stood trial only miles away. During the day Thursday, the Chicago police released body camera footage of the shooting of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed on March 29. Before we could absorb that footage, late Thursday night eight more people (ranging in age from 19 to 74) lost their lives in the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis. Four of the eight who died were members of the Sikh community. All across the nation this week, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and friends have found themselves exactly where three women were on Good Friday, grieving the loss of a loved one to irrational violence and hatred.
How does the message of Easter speak to us as we live in a Good Friday world? How does the Gospel of Resurrection challenge us?
The announcement that the body of Christ has been raised from the dead means that bodies are of sacred worth and must be treated with dignity and respect. The resurrection announcement is not just about the preservation of the memory of Jesus or the extension of his teaching. It is not that a group of despondent disciples somehow kept Jesus alive in their hearts. It is that the broken and tattered body of Jesus was raised in such a way that it could be seen and touched. In raising Jesus, God demonstrates that bodies are of sacred value, worthy of being delivered from destruction.
If our lives are being remade by the resurrection of Jesus, we must give ourselves to protecting the dignity and worth of human bodies, to fostering communities where black mothers and fathers do not have to fear for the safety of their children, to eradicating from our hearts and our culture the kind of white supremacy that has produced violence not only against black bodies but also against so many others, and finally to putting an end to the senseless worship of weapons that more and more runs through our culture.
If the body of Christ has been raised from the dead, not as a stand-alone event but as “the first fruits,” then we are called to honor the bodies of all. Honoring human bodies means not remaining silent in the face of their desecration and seeking to cultivate a world that looks more like Easter than Good Friday.
The message of Easter holds an additional word of challenge and promise for the Church and for individual followers of Christ as we still live in a world that feels like Good Friday. If we are tempted to believe there is nothing that we can do about the violence around us, then we need to remember that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is available and at work among us. Just as God delivered Jesus from the desecration of his body, so God desires to work through the Church around the world to an eradication of violence and the triumph of resurrecting love.
The Church, as a Global Community drawn from every race, ethnicity, nation and people who speak every language, is uniquely empowered to participate in the resurrection and renewal of the world. The Risen Jesus is speaking to those of us who are white Christians right now through the voices, testimonies and struggles of our sisters and brothers who are black, brown and Asian, calling us not only to hear but also to notice more deeply, speak more courageously and act more transformationally.
At its core, Easter is not the announcement that spring has sprung or that Christ is alive in our hearts. It is that God raised Jesus from the dead bodily. God has seen the brokenness of the world and the shattering of bodies, has decided to intervene, and has empowered us to join in the resurrection that began early in the morning on the first day of the week while it was still dark. That’s the calling of the Church when the Third Sunday of Easter is marked in the midst of Good Friday.
Rev. Dr. Paul Baxley is Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Decatur, Ga. Learn more about CBF at http://www.cbf.net.