As I watched the historic Health Care legislation unfold last week, my heart ached watching congressmen and women walk the gauntlet of hecklers as they entered the capital building to vote. The crowd shouted racial and homophobic slurs, and spat on elected officials of our government, who support the Health Reform bill.
Now in Holy week, I am reminded of the sacred story we rehearse every year. How the fickle crowd, who sang Hosanna to Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem on Sunday, turned into an angry mob shouting, "Crucify him!" on Friday. One can imagine the taunting and spitting he underwent as he carried the cross through Jerusalem's streets on the way to Calvary. Pilgrims today visit that route called the Via Dela Rosa.
Last week in our capital, encouraged by the heated rhetoric of some elected officials and media pundits, the anger of the crowd once again spilled over into acts of violence. A gas main was cut at the home of one legislator's family home, and stones were thrown through legislator's office windows around the country. Protesters are being called to rally with a show of guns on April 18th, the anniversary of the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma, and the raid by Federal agents of the Branch Davidian Compound in Texas.
This Holy Week is the most dangerous I’ve known. We, who call ourselves Protestants, and have a history of protest and reform need a word of caution. Granted the American public, including we Presbyterians, are divided on issues. We likely always will be. Yet I remind us of our civil covenant. I call upon my Presbyterian colleagues and friends, especially those who happen to be Republican, to step up as leaders in your community to tone down the rhetoric. Violence is not the answer. Democracy functions only with civility. Our social compact is that the majority rules and that the rights of the minority are protected.
This is just as true in church disagreements as in public matters. Commissioners are now preparing for the 219th General Assembly this July. They will be party to some hotly debated issues. It is healthy to have a good hard debate on the issues. Yet, we must do so respecting the bond we have in Christ. Debate rightly highlights differences, but becomes unhelpful when it degenerates into personal attacks, and tragically forgets the shared common ground. When a decision is made, we then have the obligation to move forward together as a people. Councils sometimes do err. We must then work to correct or improve decisions. This is the American way. It is the Presbyterian way. Our Book of Order concerning our principles in Presbyterian governance states, “Presbyters are not simply to reflect the will of the people, but rather to seek together to find and represent the will of Christ. Decisions shall be reached in governing bodies by vote, following opportunity for discussion, and a majority shall govern” (G-4.0301 d, e). Dissent may be declared expressing disagreement with an action or decision. The names of those dissenting are recorded for history and the sake of integrity. There may be protest of an irregularity or delinquency(G-9.0303 and 4). But then we move forward or withdraw peaceable for sake of the unity of the church.
Secondly,I watched the first episode of the new TV series, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. We frown on reality TV shows, but I commend this one to you. Oliver is an English chef, who challenges the food culture of a West Virginia town, which is reported to have the worst health statistics in the country. A local pastor noted the crisis, and welcomes Oliver’s intervention and is confronting the food culture of his congregation. These are real people and real issues. Health Care should be more than doctors treating symptoms. Our prayer concerns should be more than lifting our loved ones illness to God in prayer. We should be addressing the causes of our poor health. Our society's unhealthy diet and eating habits need confronting, particularly in our public policy for our schools and church gatherings. As with any change, we tend to want to hang onto old patterns, even if they are making us ill. Deny their effects, ridicule and challenge those who want to offer a healthier, more life giving way. Oliver's Food Revolution airs on Friday nights. Record it and watch it when you return home from your Good Friday service.
Thirdly, the good news is that the sacred story of Holy Week, which is our story, ends with Resurrection. The bad news is that according to a recent survey reported in the Kalamazoo Gazette, less that half of Americans link Easter to the Resurrection of Jesus. “Just 42 percent over all and 37 percent of young adults ages 18 to 25, tie Easter to the Resurrection… Only one out of every 50 adults, or 2 percent, said they would describe Easter "as the most important holiday of their faith.” How sad! The Resurrection of Jesus is a cornerstone of my faith and of the church, the reason for hope.
Some wise person wrote and I have preached, that Easter is about more than a supernatural intervention of God to resuscitate the corpse of Jesus. The meaning of Easter is that Jesus continued to be experienced after his death, after confronting the powers and principalities, but in a radically new way: as a spiritual and divine reality. The church is built on the foundation of those witnesses, who experienced the risen Christ as a living presence. For Brazilian theologian, Ivone Gebara, the empty tomb is itself the key to our understanding the Resurrection and to our living the Resurrection in our own lives. She writes, “The empty tomb returns us to the manger, the place of the child, the place of rebirth of hope. The empty tomb returns us to ourselves, women and men capable of giving birth and rebirth to the divine, the essence of our own flesh.” So like his birth, Jesus’ resurrection is an event that is ultimately beyond our ability to understand or reason. As mystery, the only way we can hope to “get” the Resurrection is to live it. The empty tomb is thus not an ending, but a beginning, an invitation to each of us to birth and rebirth the divine in the confines of our own lives.
The Living Risen Christ gave the saints before us and now gives you and me the back bone to stand against the crowd and do what is right. Resurrection is our foundation for hope for the life abundant of which Jesus spoke (John 10:10). Not just for ourselves, but for our families, our communities, our nation and the very creation which is crying out for it.
I’ll close with a story of when I was a missionary in Brazil. It was our first Easter in our new church building of a new congregation just being organized. I was directing the passion pageant with the youth. Following scripture as our narrative, I was choreographing the story with them when I discovered a problem. The story jumps from Friday night burial to Easter morning empty tomb with the stone already rolled away. We had no stage curtain, no special lighting. We had constructed a stone out of palm branches and paper and placed it in front of the door to the Sunday school room, which we made the tomb. “How do we get the stone rolled away?” I asked myself and the kids. I looked at a little girl sitting on a church pew patiently waiting, and asked her, “Do you have a part?” “No.” “Do you want a part?” “Yes.” “Come here, I need you to play the part of God. Hide here behind this stone and roll it to the side at the right time.” And she did!
When new life comes, God enlists us to give a hand, to join in the interventions that transform old dead patterns that imprison into new abundant life. However, I've learned, that moving the tomb stones is a God thing. We can’t do it ourselves. Resurrection is God's doing!