A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
May 2, 2019
The Christian church celebrates Easter every Sunday when it gathers to worship. From its earliest days, the church has considered Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, as “the Lord’s Day.” Most Christians choose to gather for weekly worship on that day, rather than on the Sabbath observed by our Jewish forbears.
The church also has set aside the forty days between Easter and Jesus’ ascension as a holy season it calls “Eastertide.” It is impossible to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection too much. It is the core of the apostles’ message that galvanized the Jesus movement in its infancy. Presbyterians rightly call funerals and memorial services a “Service of Witness to the Resurrection.” It was my holy privilege to lead a service of Witness to the Resurrection on Good Friday for my beloved father-in-law, Abe Wiens. Our family greatly grieves losing him, yet we celebrated resurrection hope in that service, concluding it with the joyous strains of “Easter Song.” It may have seemed incongruous to sing such a song on Good Friday, yet cross and resurrection are never separated in the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel.
The church forgets the centrality of Christ’s resurrection to its great peril. We confess both Jesus’ virgin birth and bodily resurrection in the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, but only the resurrection figures into apostolic proclamation. The necessity of Jesus being alive is central to the Gospel. If Christ is not raised, Paul says, our faith is in vain, and we are of all people to be most pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
Today, with hate-filled death-dealing running amok in our world, we need to remember Jesus’ resurrection more than ever. Last week in California another hate-driven gunman broke into a Jewish synagogue, intent on raining death on its worshipers, six months to the day after the hate-fueled massacre at the Tree of Life here in Pittsburgh. A week earlier, hundreds of Christians, many in their place of worship, died on Easter Day under a hail of hate-inspired gunfire in Sri Lanka.
Hateful discourse breeds hateful violence. Whether by an individual voice, messaging on social media, or in concert with a crowd, verbal expression of hate is evil. Let there be no whitewashing of it by suggesting that people who spread hate or support those who do so may be otherwise “good.” It cannot be tolerated. Its end is always death, and our message is about resurrection life. Hate speech and Christian faith are utterly incompatible.
When we hear hatred expressed, we must speak up against it. Easter demands that we bear witness against all forms of death-dealing, whether verbal or actual. As the chorus of hatred for “the other” rises, Christians must call out the loud “No!” to hatred that Easter shouts. Christianity’s bold “Yes!” to resurrection life is also and always an equally emphatic “No!” to all that harms and destroys.
We need Eastertide, because we need the resurrection message more than ever. We need to celebrate more that Christ is risen, and that because he lives, we too shall live. (Romans 6:8) Belief in Jesus’ resurrection is admittedly scandalous, and is easily lost if we do not nourish it rigorously. We need not understand the nature of Jesus’ risen body in order to affirm his resurrection. We have no empirical evidence to support our claim that Jesus rose from the dead, only eyewitness reports written decades later. Yet these reports ultimately turned the world upside down.
From the church’s earliest days, the Easter message has been proclaimed in Christian worship through reading and interpreting both the Hebrew Scriptures and what early Christians called the apostles’ “memoirs.” On the road to Emmaus, it was not seeing the risen Jesus that transformed his disciples into resurrection believers, but hearing the words of Hebrew Scripture opened up to them. (Luke 24:25-32)
My reason for including Scripture references in my weekly letters to you grows from my conviction that the best way to nourish Easter faith is to keep reading Scripture together – both testaments together, reading together with each other when we gather to worship, and reading together with saints from across space and time through the many writings they have bequeathed to us.
Yours in resurrection hope,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister