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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Here and Now, Up Close and Personal
April 20, 2017

The Lord is risen! He is Risen indeed!

Easter’s responsive liturgy transcends space and time. It has rung out in Easter worship from time immemorial, around the world. Trust in Jesus’ resurrection is the basic building block of Christian saving faith. According to Paul: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

So what is this resurrection that we believe? First, let’s be clear what it is not. It is not something that happens in a future life or distant world. It is not about “after-life” in “heaven,” but a transformed life and world, here and now. It is not an abstract universal claim of new things to come at some unknown time and place hereafter, but a new way of encountering those nearby, up close and personal.

Each of the Gospels records Jesus in contact with his followers in ordinary life situations on resurrection day. Along a walkway. Inside a house. Amid a garden. At a meal.

Artists have tried to imagine the moment of resurrection. A great flash of light, a shuddering earth, gaping guards, angelic messengers, and more converge at the tomb as Jesus breaks forth in resurrection glory. Matthew reports such phenomena, but only when the angel arrives at the already-empty tomb.

The Gospels themselves are silent, even agnostic, on the moment and mode of Jesus’ resurrection. Instead they report his mundane encounters later that day, with one or two or just a few, here and there. What is striking is the continuity between what Jesus said and did with his disciples before and after his resurrection. Same sermon. Same walk. Same assurance of peace. Same blessing at the table. Same love.

The Gospels are not averse to reporting miracles. From the angel’s annunciation to Mary through Jesus’ many acts of power to feed the thousands, calm the raging sea, and liberate those bound by physical and spiritual chains, the evangelists relish detailing how this poor carpenter from Nazareth exercised amazing supernatural power wherever he went. But here, Easter morning, when the greatest miracle of all occurs, the Gospels fall silent. There is no mountain of glorious Transfiguration, only an empty cave.

There is plenty of noise and commotion in the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion – eager “Hosanna!” shouts, the cacophony of crashing Temple tables, blood-thirsty shrieks of “Crucify him!” But Easter dawns quietly, and Jesus moves about almost unnoticed. Jesus works miracles all the way to his date with death in Jerusalem, but the only thing close to a miracle after his resurrection is the unexpected catch of fish when Jesus tells the fishermen to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.

Resurrection life for Jesus is all about ordinary things, small acts of close friendship that point to life that cannot be conquered by death. This is the life to which he calls us as Easter people. Practicing resurrection is all about engaging Jesus amid our own very ordinary struggles and hopes, and about living with our neighbors today in a way that is transformative for them.

Nurture friendships. Calm fears. Be patient with doubters. Comfort the broken-hearted. Feed the hungry. Forgive those who fail you. Give the wayward second chances – and third chances, and more. Bless those who have forsaken you. Entrust others with big things even if they are still wavering. These are the markers of the resurrected Jesus, and he invites us as Easter people to live in the same way.

The fanfares of our Easter Day celebrations have already faded. Alleluias will still dominate our worship through the Easter season, but the grand choirs and parades of resurrection morning give way quickly to the routine and ordinary on Sunday mornings. This very ordinariness provides us golden opportunity to embrace and embody Easter as it originally unfolded.

Beloved of God, let us be truly Easter people, focusing on walking in a new way with Jesus and with one another here and now, up close and personal. Precisely in small things close at hand does the risen Lord begin to stir up things that eventually turn lives and worlds upside down.

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Now, may his risen presence live in us and through us to friend, neighbor, family and community. Who knows what avalanche may be started by simply moving a pebble?

Yours in Easter living,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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