A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
April 12, 2018
Nothing formed the early Christian movement more decisively than Jesus’ resurrection. Paul tells the Corinthian church, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) The early church saw Jesus’ resurrection as heaven’s vindication of Jesus as God’s anointed Messiah. Only in the light of his resurrection did Jesus’ disciples finally see the significance of his teachings, his works, and his suffering as the fulfillment of God’s salvation promises from time immemorial.
Luke reports that, on the evening of his resurrection, Jesus took a long walk with his disciples, explaining to them yet again what he had taught them all along about the biblical salvation story, and how he fulfilled its prophetic promises. All the while he walked with them, they didn’t recognize him, just as they had not recognized him in the writings of the prophets. At the end of their journey, seated at the dinner table that Easter evening, Luke says that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” (Luke 24:31) Resurrection makes us see everything differently.
What we confess for humanity when we say in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” we confess for all creation when we look for “a new heaven and a new earth” with a “new Jerusalem” as its center. (Revelation 21) These are poetic images, to be sure, but they signify something that lies at the core of the Christian message – when the risen Lord reigns, everything is made new. Then made new again. And again. Jesus’ resurrection is our assurance that God is always in the re-creation business.
It’s a message as hard for us to receive today as it was for Jesus’ followers to welcome his resurrection. The Easter message of laying down our lives and embracing new life seems almost impossible to fathom in a world that knows only how to fight for survival in the face of ever-threatening death. Everything around us urges us to defend ourselves and protect what we have at all costs. That is why we need practice to be Easter people. Plenty of it.
Ten thousand hours. That’s what experts say we need to invest in a particular practice if we are to master it, whether it’s laying bricks or playing piano. How many hours of practice does it take for us to become Easter people through and through?
Perhaps you have noticed that, on the church’s calendar, Easter takes up more time than Advent and Lent. It is the longest single season of the church year. Apparently, we need the Easter message to be hammered home even harder than the repentance themes of Advent and Lent.
And that’s not all. The early church, recognizing how much we need the resurrection message at our core, determined that every week Christians should celebrate Easter by worshiping on Sunday, the first day of the week. The Lord’s Day, they called it. The day of his resurrection. Every Sunday was viewed as a “little Easter.” It was so important that they were willing to set aside centuries of faithful practice that designated the Sabbath, the seventh day, as the central worship day.
No command in the Old Testament is repeated more often than keeping Sabbath. It is enshrined in the Ten Commandments. Violation of the Sabbath command instigates divine judgment. And yet….
The first Christians, faithful practicing Jews, determined that their worship needed to be centered on Jesus’ resurrection rather than on the Sabbath. The Lord’s Day came to mean more to them than any other day. Of course, this shift from Sabbath to Sunday worship was aided by the actions of many synagogues banishing those who professed faith in Jesus.
By worshiping on the Lord’s Day, celebrating every Sunday as a little Easter, Christians practice resurrection. In so doing, they bear witness that new life is the essence of the Gospel. The weekly assembly of Christians celebrating the risen Lord matters more than we can imagine.
Wherever the church of Jesus has lived, it has done so with the hope and expectation that its life, as difficult or good as it may be, will be reconfigured into a new life. Nothing about the Easter-based church is static. It stands always ready and expectant for the Spirit to unveil and unleash something new in its fellowship and through its witness. It knows that its vitality depends not on recapitulation but on resurrection.
How is it for us? Perhaps we yearn for what the church once was, in some earlier golden age. Thank God for those days of blessing. But the Easter church expects something new to rise up, that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead will also raise us up to new forms of life and witness. (Romans 8:11) Are we ready for the transformation of resurrection? Fasten your seatbelts. Hold on tight. Change is coming. God’s new life is breaking open upon us and through us. Always. Everywhere. It is the essence of being the church of the risen Lord.
Yours in resurrection hope,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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