April 1, 2018
To my dear siblings in Christ, the people of Los Angeles and our Synod, and to all who see this message: Greetings in Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord!
In Easter observances throughout the world, the Christian Church joins together now, as in a single voice, to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Christ is risen!” we declare, and the world responds “He is risen indeed!” This is the ultimate “good news”: that God, in Christ, has broken the bonds of sin and death that hold us captive, and has shown us a new day, a new way, to understand ourselves and all of Creation as loved and redeemed by God.
The Easter story is not just an abstract concept, a cosmic drama played out before us as spectators, in which we see the light of Christ overcome the darkness of human evil with the inevitability of the happy ending to a nursery story. It is more than that. It reveals a struggle in which we, and this world in which we live, see our own rescue from the evil that engulfs us and the death we each—personally and collectively—fear. The resurrection of Jesus is not a way for God to “show us something great”—no, much more than that: it is the actual breaking-in of God’s power in our world and in our lives.
On Good Friday, we don’t just remember Jesus’ passion and death as something that happened once and long ago, but as an ongoing event in which we are participants. We don’t stand to the side as Jesus’ accusers put him to death—we join them. We don’t just watch what is going on around us—prejudice and racism, injustice and violence in our world—we participate in it. We participate in evil in every way we fail to act against it; we make ourselves complicit in it in all the ways we simply “go along” with systemic injustice.
Every year at Easter—every Sunday in the Eucharist—we repeat the story of the one who died and rose again. We renew our gratitude for a God who understands our pain and who meets us in it. We bask in the hope of God’s favor in whatever future God has for us as believers. But unless we realize that Christ’s Easter victory is about us personally, we miss the point. It is our participation in evil, whether by conscious choice or by passive acceptance, that Christ died to overcome and rose again to vanquish—and to free us.
God tore open the veil between heaven and earth and came to us in Jesus the Christ; God suffered with us in Jesus, even unto death on a cross. And now God tears the veil again, breaks open the sealed tomb, and leaves our human weakness and fragility behind like the grave-clothes the women found lying where Jesus’ body should have been. But Christ’s rising was not a departing but a new beginning: when the stone rolls away, God breaks down the wall of separation we have built between God and ourselves, and God enters our lives anew, in the One who now lives not just with us, but in us—lives in us as the Christ of whose body we are limbs; into whose death we died in baptism, and whose body and blood still feeds us in his church.
In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Easter is not an imminent, internal event, but rather a transcendent event that comes from beyond us: it is God breaking in from the Eternal, claiming his Holy One, waking him from death.”[i] The resurrection is God’s power in action, an intervention from outside our understanding, an act of force that rearranges reality.
In our new Easter reality, we inhabit the world and our lives differently. We know that our God is a God who rearranges all our realities, whose power is outside our understanding. We know a God who gives us the power and the courage to change our world, our communities, and even—hardest of all—the power to change ourselves. As Martin Luther reminds us, we cannot help but live “as though God had raised us today together with Christ,”[ii]—that is, our Easter selves can lay aside our fears and anxieties and tear down the walls we build to shield ourselves from the things that unsettle and frighten us.
We can use our renewed Easter power is to let go of our fear of each other, and especially of those different from us. We are each loved; we are each worthy. Then why do we fight? Why do we not share more freely? Why is there so little trust and so much suspicion? Prejudice and fear are not from God; God expressly liberates us from them. Let us grasp a new, deeper truth: our worth does not come from what we think of each other, or how much money or influence we have, but in the love God has shown us in Jesus Christ.
As with Christians of every confession we celebrate Easter this year, may we understand and proclaim the great power of God shown for us in the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus; may we claim that power for ourselves as sinners made whole and redeemed by Jesus; and may we use our trust in God’s love and power to vanquish the darkness in our time and place and resist the forces that would dehumanize us or others.
May you feel the powerful presence of the Risen Christ every day and share with others the joy and hope that he brings to you. Please do not forget to pray for me, as I pray for you!
And may the blessing of Almighty God: Father, ✢ Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you always! Amen.
Bishop Guy Erwin
[i] “Nicht ein immanentes das heißt innerweltliches, sondern ein transzendentes das heißt überweltliches Geschehen ist Ostern, ein Eingriff Gottes aus der Ewigkeit, kraft dessen er sich zu seinem Heiligen bekennt, ihn vom Tode auferweckt.“ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Barcelona, Berlin, Amerika 1928-1931, Dietrich Bonhoeffers Werke (DBW), volume 10, pp. 463-4.
[ii] “Denn es ist uns vorgestellt und geschenkt, dass wir uns sein anders nicht annehmen sollen, denn als hätte uns selbst heute Gott mit Christus auferweckt.“ Martin Luther, „Am Heyligen Ostertag, von frucht der Aufferstehung Christi. Euangelion Matth. xxviij.“ 1544 (WA 52, S. 245).