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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

April 12, 2012

Each year’s Passover Seder includes the song Dayenu, in which God’s people give thanks for the Lord’s saving work using a form that goes something like this: If God had done only _________ for us, and had not also done ________, it would have been enough. Dayenu is a Hebrew word meaning roughly, “It would have sufficed us.” Thus, the Seder song begins, “If God had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgment against our oppressors, it would have been enough.” It’s an upbeat song of joyous celebration.

Dayenu is a rhetorical construct designed to underscore just how great our salvation truly is. It declares that if we had received only some of salvation’s gifts, we would still be marvelously blessed. A Gospel song puts it this way, “If Heaven never was promised to me… it’s been worth just having the Lord in my life.”

Of course, the good news is that with salvation, we get the whole thing, not just part of it. The point of Dayenu is not to shrink salvation’s story, but to underscore just how magnificent it truly is in all its fullness. We appreciate the whole of it more when we stop to think about how each part of it is in itself a gift worth treasuring.

There is a form of Dayenu that is sometimes raised at Easter – even if Jesus were not raised from the dead, we would still find great blessing in heeding his teaching and following his example. If this is truly a Dayenu, it is a good and helpful refrain that celebrates just how much Jesus’ life and ministry mean to us. Indeed, it can be a corrective to a tendency that has been an Achilles heel for some Christians, namely to focus so much on Jesus’ death and resurrection that we fail to pay sufficient attention to the ways his life and ministry are critical to his saving work for humanity. Perhaps one reason Christians are susceptible to this is because of the pattern we learn in the Apostles’ Creed, leaping straight from Jesus’ birth to his crucifixion: “I believe in Jesus Christ … who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…” It could be a wonderfully helpful correction for us to join in this Dayenu: if all that we had were Jesus’ life and ministry, it would be enough; but we have more – his death and resurrection!

Alas, sometimes this claim is raised not as a Dayenu, but as a reduction of the salvation story. Some deny Jesus’ bodily resurrection out of hand, because scientifically it is impossible. But, they continue, that really doesn’t matter, for Jesus’ message, example, and death themselves are sufficient to salvation. Paul disagrees with such sentiments in the strongest terms – “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

Are we better off for having heard Jesus’ teaching, witnessed his love for the outcast, and watched his self-sacrificing love lead him to the cross? Dayenu! “It would have been enough!” But that’s not all – God added to it the vindication and triumph of Christ’s resurrection, leading Paul to exult, “As all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) Christ’s resurrection is God’s seal on our hope for eternal life.

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 15 to explore at length the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection, contending that it was more than simply the resuscitation of his body. He was raised a “spiritual body,” Paul says. This spiritual body is related to our mortal body as a tree is related to the seed from which it grows – they are fully alike and entirely different at the same time. According to the Gospel writers, the resurrected Jesus ate and drank, and his body bore the scars of his crucifixion; yet he moved through locked doors and was often unrecognizable even to his closest friends. He was the same, but he was radically different. In the end, for Paul, the resurrection remains a mystery in many respects. But one thing is sure – we know that Jesus was raised bodily, in some way. And, if that weren’t enough, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he…will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”  (Romans 8:11) Dayenu!

With Easter joy,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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