By Pastor Tim Phillips
It’s that time of year again when I find myself dancing around the meaning, the historicity, and the theological implications of Holy Week and Easter. Some of you have made yourselves clear about what you do – or don’t – believe about the stories the gospels tell of the final days of Jesus. You all have good reasons for what you think happened – or didn’t – and you have been helpful to me in the practice of my own understanding of resurrection.
Earlier this year, I was at a meeting of American Baptist pastors at which one of them said: “If the power of the resurrection isn’t in it (something, anything), why are we wasting our time?” I couldn’t think of anything else for the rest of the day. What if the test of how I spend my time has something to do with looking, in every situation, for the power that refuses to let death have the last word?
Maybe the worst thing about death in all its forms is that it robs us of the energy to imagine anything else. Addiction robs us of the energy to imagine healing. Violence robs us of the energy to imagine peace. Sickness robs us of the energy to imagine some kind of wholeness beyond a cure. The burdens of life rob us of energy for a sense of humor that can put things in perspective. Death robs us of the energy to imagine that anything has power great enough to outlive its hold on us.
I have been carrying German pastor/martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer around with me this Lenten season and I continue to be struck by his return, at the end of his life, to the Song of Songs; that erotic love poem in the Hebrew Bible that includes the line: “Love is as strong as death.” It’s one thing to dismiss, tame, or hyper-spiritualize the resurrection. But it’s another to hear the testimony of someone who is gripped by death in a concentration camp and still can claim that he knows the power of something that is stronger.
That’s the resurrection I want to learn something about. And I see it in recovery groups and in hospital rooms and at gravesides. I don’t want to waste my time on optimism if there is the power of audacious hope available to me. I don’t want to waste my time on deadly dogmatic debates if there is a power out there that can open my mind and free my heart. I don’t want to spend my time denying death. That is a colossal waste of energy. Death is real. Death appears in many forms and comes for all of us. Death can even be gracious. I’m not wasting my time denying death if resurrection power is already at work in every situation revealing love and beauty and grace.
The followers of Jesus didn’t waste their time hating the Romans for what they did to Jesus. They lived in the power of what happened next – they gathered together in a new spirit; they re-imagined the meaning of the “Kingdom of God;” they took a second and third and fourth look at the life of Jesus and they went to work building communities where his real presence could be experienced in compassion and love and justice. Why should they waste their time in fear and disappointment when resurrection power was already at work in what was happening next?
I’m with the author of Philippians in this Holy Week and Easter: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death” so that, in the end, I’m not wasting my time on anything less than the resurrection power already at work in whatever happens next. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what the “what next” will be. Resurrection power is a mystery. But I don’t want to miss it, especially if the Song of Songs is right and love really is stronger than death.
I have no interest in wasting your time this Easter season. What I do hope is that somewhere, somehow you will be able to see resurrection power already at work in whatever happens next.