Today the words “He is risen” and “He is risen indeed” will chime around the world as Christians of all tongues, cultures, and ethnicities greet each other. For those setting aside this day to celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection, the day symbolically marks the death of Death itself and the beginning of a new era of history: the Kingdom of Heaven now being ushered in on Earth.
As the chorus of “He is risens” surround me in a sunlit haze, I find myself pondering once more the grand upheaval of the Cross and the magnitude of what it altered so many years ago. All too often we get caught up in a lukewarm acknowledgement of the Cross and Resurrection, the reality of it swinging off our necks on silver chains or nestling comfortably in the fluff of a store-bought Easter bunny. We settle into the familiar rituals established by our church forefathers and foremothers and then dress ourselves in bright new clothes on Easter morning to symbolize the birth of our new selves.
Cross necklaces and fluffy bunnies and new clothes are not an evil; however, do they represent a condition of our souls where we are redeemed but too sanitized to submit to the full work of transformation that God wants to unfurl upon our lives?
When I say “sanitized,” I mean a type of de-fanged faith that enters eagerly into spaces of spiritual formation and personal growth and rituals yet resists the call to sink into spaces of suffering and tension. That kind of faith may still shape your character and draw you near to God, but it is also incomplete in its essence because it requires only a selective trust in God.
A selective trust in God implies that we trust God with the Level 1 or even Level 2 sins, maybe going deeper as our XP increases (yes, I am a gamer), but once we hit a certain level and encounter that monstrous, hideous boss we cannot name and do not want to, we try to guide God away from the sight (Nothing to see here Lord!) and change paths so we don’t have to see it again. However, we serve a stubborn, or rather, persistent God who does not allow us to re-load the game and pretend the monsters in the shadows don’t exist. He points to them again and again through friends’ words, through a video on Facebook, through online articles, through Scripture. We may keep resisting, but He will draw those monsters out to sharpen our faith into a weapon that can cut through darkness.
A toothless faith unwilling to confront the forces of evil shaping the realities of those around us and shaping ourselves, even unconsciously, will be in no position to carry forward the work of the Cross. To understand the work of the Cross, we must acknowledge what is put to death with Jesus, what is nailed to the blood-mottled beam along with his body: the norms and practices of a decrepit world order. Sometimes we call them our daily thoughts and habits. They may be the aspects of our lives so familiar and reflexive and even pleasurable, yet at their root contain the degenerative elements of sin.
What comes naturally: clinging to what we believe we deserve. Generalizing people into cookie-cutter categories for easy use. Listening to words that affirm us and make us feel comfortable. Gravitating towards familiar boundaries of thought. Preserving our reputations as good people. Dismissing anything that challenges that notion.
These often unspoken values inform our actions as we interact with others, creating a distorted filter when they blind us to the breadth and complexity of our sin and the ways in which it impacts other human lives. Our Claredon or Ludwig filters set, we miss the grievous wrongs we contribute to and miss opportunities to surrender those to God and undergo the continuing process of transformation as He removes the filters and endows us new eyes to see the world. Only then do we finally see the mess of the old world order in action.
The old world order is one where mocking gay people is meme-worthy. It is a world where the dearth of female voices in Congress, on church stages goes unacknowledged. A world of dismissals of #BlackLivesMatter for being too radical and of complaints about whining immigrants that should just be deported anyway. A world of pulpits instead of prayers with poor white folks on welfare and black folks imprisoned for minor drug offenses. A world where the poor lack agency to do anything but wait for a white savior to enlighten them. A world where our sanctuaries become havens for the privileged to retreat to and distance themselves from all the people they love whose sins they hate. A world where I don’t have to question the big -ISMS and -IAS (homophobia, racism, xenophobia, classicism, ageism, ableism) in my heart and in my Church.
A world mired in the grave of its false convictions that we have the right to dismiss the suffering of others if it is not relevant to us.
Christ put that world in all its defense mechanisms and justifications and ignorance to death. He nailed the couched kind of religion that requires worship songs but not works of sacrificial advocacy for our neighbors. He drowned our man-made divisions in His blood. Why do we then grasp for the trappings of what he interred rather than entering into the new World beckoning our minds and hands and feet?
We are afraid. I am afraid of probing my past and present to find the points where I have benefited from privileges fabricated from the exploitation of native peoples and their land. I tremble at the uncensored stream of thoughts pouring out of the well of internalized racism within me. I avert my gaze from articles about the “safe activism” of middle-class individuals and my lips grip together when a friend talks about the ignorant remarks her classmates made about “crazy people,” mentally-ill people, when I can recall all the times I used to make similar jokes.
Apologies touch the surface, but repenting for the old world’s cracked bones beneath my skin necessitates an agonizing type of self-examination in full surrender to God’s judgment and His grace. For God will judge the way I treated my neighbor, and the way I failed to humble myself and learn and listen when on Earth. How can I claim to be the new creation declared in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when I am so invested in securing my old self? Colossians 2:-15 reiterates this:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
If Good Friday and the Cross remind us of what is put to death, Easter reminds us of what is raised. And as children born again, learning how to crawl and amble and bound our way through the puckered skin of a new world, we are what is raised. We are raised, not only to greater heights to view the latitude of the human story in its Fall and Redemption, but also to maturity in perspective because the best and perfect Father is the one raising us to represent His abundantly loving and just heart with everyone in our sphere of influence.
Jesus’ death conquered the old world order and its rulers, and his resurrection raises us into the roles of our inheritance: ambassadors of our Father (2 Corinthians 5:20). The one raising us gives us access to everything we need to act as vision-casters for those around us still struggling with the remnants of the old sin-gouged world already defeated. Our vision is not yet perfect but rather in process, and every time we surrender all thoughts and actions to God, even the ones we have yet to grieve or are most afraid to reveal, He clarifies our vision that much more.
My encouragement to my Christian family on this Easter Sunday: Inhabit the reality of one God is raising to be just, compassionate, empathetic, selfless, and kind, and cast visions of His restored and rightly ordered world. The cost will be our comfort and our carefully manicured privileges and reputations as we challenge distorted views and practices and engage with our individual and Church community sins. Let us face our monsters and realize that victory is assured; no one stands to condemn us. Only further growth and grace await those who reach out from the pits to which they have fallen and realize the great and wondrous thing it is to be raised from them to greet the light.