We Christians believe that we have a moral obligation to point to the pain that the rest of the world can’t see. Others may stroll past the suffering, but we stop and stare, take up an offering, make an appeal and collect blankets, sighing as we do our bit to alleviate some of the misery. That life may not actually be rotten in our part of the world today only increases our guilt for our occasional lapses into joy. How dare we sing when others are sufffering?
In time for Holy Week, this issue features David Cunningham’s essay on the destiny of the “other thief” who was on the cross beside Jesus. It also contains William H. Willimon’s witness to the radical news of Easter.
The promise of Isaiah 65 is that God is doing a new thing. There will be a new creation: a new heaven and a new earth. In this new dispensation things are going to change big time. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” No longer must one consume another to survive in this new world.
When read in its entirety, Luke’s 24th chapter tells the story of Christ’s resurrection in much the same way that we as parents and family members narrate the birth of a child. Though we have prepared for the arrival of the new family member, the onset of labor announces that nothing will be as we’ve imagined.
Every year we preachers eagerly look for help with the daunting challenge of preparing an Easter sermon. Never are we as acutely aware of our own limitations, intellectual and spiritual, as when we try to find words to express the reality that a dead man didn’t remain dead.
The only sheep and shepherds to be seen in my urban neighborhood are either the subjects of cheerful pastel murals in church school classrooms or the children themselves, decked out as the inhabitants of Bethlehem for the Christmas pageant. So far removed are we from teeming, bleating sheepfolds that both the creatures and those who care for them seem little more than quaint artifacts.
In his collection of poems titled After the Lost War, Andrew Hudgins chronicles the life of a Confederate soldier during and just after the Civil War. In “What Light Destroys,” the soldier fondly recalls a camping trip he once took with his four sons.
It’s still dark on Easter morning as I join other worshipers for our annual sunrise service. We gather on a tree-studded hillside in a cemetery that overlooks a peaceful river. As the first shards of light glisten on silent waters, we sing and pray. Then a pastor stands and asks:
“Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
What happens to a person when the Holy Spirit descends like a tongue of fire? In Acts, those present were filled with the Holy Spirit. We all long for this. We all seek fulfillment. I saw this once when I was conducting a spiritual retreat for members of various 12-step groups. Each person spoke powerfully about how the pain of emptiness in his life had led him down wayward paths. Each had discovered that “you can never get enough of that which will not satisfy.”