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What Does It Mean to Be an Easter People?

April 8, 2012

Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  Matthew 22:37-40

 

It is often said that Christians are an “Easter People.”  We walk in the sure and certain hope that just as Jesus rose from the dead to sit at the Father’s right hand, we too have Jesus’ promise that all who believe in him will have everlasting life.  Our response to this promise—this gift—is to worship God with praise and thanks for what God has already done for us through Jesus Christ.

But there is more to it than that.  Beyond our thanks and praise, Jesus calls us to a different kind of life—a different way of living.  As an “Easter People,” our response to the gift of forgiveness and eternal life compels us to try to live lives that reflect our new status.  We are a people forgiven, healed and renewed by Jesus’ Body and Blood, and we are called to share that Good News with the whole world.

Our response can and should be rooted in love.  As Jesus himself has told us, love for God and love for our neighbor is the foundation of Christian living.  Because God first loved us, loved us so much that we were given God’s only son for our salvation, our response to this love is not only to love God as deeply and fully as we are able, but also to love everyone else as deeply and fully as we love ourselves.

For most of us, if not all of us, the second part of the Great Commandment is a lot harder than the first.  I am reminded of the story of a seminarian who, repulsed by the smell and heat and press of bodies in a crowded subway station, began to complain heartily about “these people!”  The seminarian’s companion replied, “My dear, ‘these people’ are those for whom Christ died.”  A loving, distant God in heaven is much easier to love than “these people” with whom we live on this closer, crowded planet we call Earth.

But that is precisely what we most certainly, most desperately, need to do.  Human beings in general—and Americans particularly—are an unforgiving, vengeful lot.  We want to “get even” for what we take to be a slight, an offense, or an attack.  By “getting even” we usually mean we want to return the slight, the offense, the attack equally or even more so.  Our wounded pride is satisfied by wounding another’s.  Where in that is love?

What we fail to recognize, what we fail to honor, is that through Christ we are all already “even.”  Jesus, as Paul writes, died “once and for all.”  If we could begin to respect one another as equally loved, equally forgiven, equally saved by God through Christ Jesus we could begin to live the second of Jesus’ Great Commandments with greater success.  This is what it truly means to be an “Easter People.”

In this time of violence, strife, argument and disagreement, God continues to call us to love not to hate.  God continues to call us to look beyond the immediate to the eternal.  What in a moment of anger or outrage might satisfy our pride is most probably not consistent with the loving future God wants for us.  It is not God who has created the turmoil that surrounds us; it is turmoil of our own making born from our love of self above our love of others.

This Easter, amidst the joy and celebration of our new lives in Christ, let us also celebrate the joy of new life with others.  Let us begin to set aside our pride and petty difference that not only separate us from each other, but also separate us from God.  Let us strive to become an “Easter People” who know and reflect God’s love through our love for one another as equals—equally beloved children of God.

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