Brass, lilies, baptisms, and alleluias suffused Easter worship in my home church, Prairie Baptist. Even a late March snow could not dampen the joy of gathering for Resurrection Sunday. We sang our faith, heard Scripture’s witness to the empty tomb, and celebrated anew the irreducible claim, Christ is Risen.
Prior to the worship service, my Sunday School class had a rather spirited conversation about the meaning of the cross. (Good theological thinking does occur in Sunday School!) One member offered concern that the words “it is finished” might suggest that there is nothing left for us to do. That would lead to a kind of quietism that would be content to celebrate the accomplishment of Jesus, getting all the rest of us off the hook. If Jesus “paid it all,” what remains for his followers to do?
Over the Lenten season our class had been studying the book Compassion, which portrays the life of Jesus as God’s merciful and compassionate presence with us. In the humility and obedience of Jesus, even to the point of death, we see the pattern for our lives as Christians. We are to be concrete expressions of the compassion of God, also.
There is much that we are to be about in this groaning world, and our compassionate action makes visible God’s self-giving. Activism can tempt us, however, to believe that if we just plan well enough and work hard enough, we can eradicate the ills that swirl around us. While the discipline of action is critical, we “often seem to forget that it is not we who redeem, but God,” as authors McNeill, Morrison, and Nouwen observe.
The salvation of the world does not depend upon us, the writers insist, yet we bear witness to God’s forgiveness offered through the death of the son. As Jürgen Moltmann has written, “On Good Friday, God offers a general pardon to the whole world.” Of this redeeming work, we testify.
Amidst the all too frequent terrorist attacks, it is difficult to contend that the vulnerable way of compassion will triumph. The promise of a new heaven and a new earth where God will wipe away all tears, and death and mourning will be no more (Revelation 21:1-4) seems far distant in a world of suicide bombers.
Yet, the power of resurrection has been set loose in the world through the raising of Jesus. He has broken the power of sin and death, and love’s redeeming work is done—at least the part that was his to do. And so we live by faith in the bedrock Christian tradition, “Jesus was killed and hung on a tree, only to be raised by God on the third day” (Acts 10:39b-40). This grounds our hope and prompts our compassionate action in the power of the Spirit of the Risen Christ.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.