I wrote the article below for our March newsletter in the parish. The title referred to Easter as either merely the end of Lent or the beginning of new creation. After publication it did occur to me that “The End of Lent” had one other level of meaning, i.e., the purpose or destiny of Lent. After all, we need constant reminder that the disciplines of the spiritual life are not for making us feel better about ourselves or to make us more religious persons. Instead they are to connect us so deeply with God that our deeds of mercy become more than human good intentions but rather channels through which God’s healing grace and justice enter our broken and benighted world.
All of the month of March falls in the season of Lent, including all of Holy Week. Our focus for Lent 2018 has been on a congregational challenge to practice spiritual disciplines in a program called 10 Brave Christians. Response has been heartening as we have distributed nearly 100 of the program booklets. The real test for us is how many of us persevere through the program.
In the meantime, the society in which we live and move continues with its disturbing behavior in mass slayings, sexual harassment and exploitation, angry squawking, finger pointing, fake news and outright lies. Given the inundation of bad news it can certainly seem that a church like Trinity running a program like 10 Brave Christians, is living in denial or “so heavenly minded that it is of no earthly good.”
Part of the problem in understanding how our program addresses the crying needs of our world springs from a misunderstanding of what the Resurrection of Jesus means. As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of His Resurrection on April 1st it might be helpful to change the way we think of that Feast from being a glorious conclusion to the end of Lent to seeing it as a glorious beginning to a season of new life and new hope.
First of all, we need to grasp that the Resurrection of Jesus was not the mere resuscitation of a corpse. Had that been the case, while it might have provided some comfort to the disciples, it would have left the human situation exactly as it was before the crucifixion. Resurrection is the beginning of a new creation built of the same material involved in the first creation. Jesus appears suddenly in the midst of a locked room, but invites Thomas to touch his substantial body. He has, according to Paul a soma pneumatikon, a spiritual body, yet he eats substantial food in the presence of his disciples. This Resurrected person is something new in human history, something that the evolutionary history of humankind cannot account for. The Resurrected Jesus does not come up through human history, he breaks into human history to launch a new humanity.
But the real misunderstanding we Christians have about the Resurrection is that the effect of the Resurrection is only vertical. That is to say, because Jesus died for us and rose again we can have our sins forgiven and be with him in heaven when we die. That much may be true, but it is distorted by the omission of the horizontal effect of the Resurrection. Because of our baptism and through the indwelling of God’s Spirit in us, the new creation is at work in and through us in our benighted world, in all our works and words done in Christ. Those last two words, in Christ, are essential to the new creation working through us. Any Christian, no matter how sincere, who operates solely by his or her own good will and effort makes as much or as little impact as the operations of any person of good will, of any faith or of none. When we acknowledge our own powerlessness to effect substantial change and, with empty hands, invite the Spirit of God to work through us, then the power of the new creation is let loose in otherwise ordinary deeds and words.
Thus, the Risen Life of Jesus moves through us to affect all that we do in our world. Our cooperative work with God’s good purposes is honed and enhanced through our intentional connection with the Risen Lord in regular disciplines like 10 Brave Christians and our Trinity Way of Life. The work God enables us to do and the words God gives us to speak do much to thwart evil in our times, even though we may not know what might have otherwise happened. That work and those words also release much good and healing in our world though we may not directly see the results.
This may all seem a bit much to keep in mind as we struggle to keep Lent in an arrhythmic and frantic culture. But it makes all the difference in whether Easter Day is merely the end of Lent or a launching of God’s redemption in the normal spheres of our lives. This year, April 1st may be a day when the foolishness of God again proves wiser than human wisdom. Or it could be just another April Fool’s Day. That’s pretty much up to us.