The Silent Resurrection

easter celebration white house_0.mediumOnce again it is that time of the year when all the world is a buzz concerning Easter. It is a word that mean different things to different people. For some, it may simply be about bunnies, eggs, and a spectacular meal with family and friends. For others it is described as “the most important festival in the Christian calendar” (BBC). The latter view is held by Christians who accept this time of the year as a celebration period marking the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its association with the resurrection seems to make it an untouchable topic. To engage in analytical conversations concerning Easter with Christians is to, in a sense, disrupt the rapture-like mood of the season. In fact, this is true of anyone who celebrates something during this time. It seems that the intellect is placed to the side when celebration comes. This author dares to venture in anyway.

There has been many commentaries and discussions on the usage of the word “Easter.” Connections to paganism has been made, especially to Eastre, a saxon goddess associated with spring, and the Zidonian goddess Ashtoreth (1 Kings 11:5; 11:33; 2 Kings 23:13). Candida Moss,   Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, not only argues that similarity in pronunciation of words from one language to another and “dying and rising gods” in a variety of religions is insufficient to say that there was borrowing, but that the argument about borrowing shouldn’t be the focus of Christianity (CNN).

The origin of the word is not an issue to me. However, I understand and accept why it can be an issue for others. There is a case to be made for not using words that have historic associations with things that do not represent, or are at odds with, Christianity. This argument is often brushed aside as an ultra-conservative concern. This concern merits considerable attention on the part of those involved in how matters of faith are communicated. Ignoring this concern builds a foundation which will quickly allow usage of words that are more recent and troubling.

The meaning and usage of some words do change over time. The current season is a great example of how true this is. I’ve never heard any celebrant of Easter make a claim of praising a futility goddess. To say they are doing so sub-consciously, in my humble opinion, is also not a credible argument. Oftentimes, in order to prove a point, an argument will be advanced and supported by cliché like statements with no credible analysis to support the claims made. These and tactics such as intentional misrepresentations serve no purpose and should never be use in discussions of such magnitude in Christian circles.

If Easter is the celebration of the bodily resurrection of Christ by those who believe that there was such a thing then why is there not much talk on the resurrection? Sure many will flock to the churches during holy week–Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday–to hear meditations and sermons concerning what took place before and as a result of the crucifixion, but  why is it so quiet outside? Why hasn’t this bold belief concerning the coming to life of a crucified and buried savior not cause believers to spread the message like wildfire?

It seems that the Easter celebration period is not a time for evangelization. Rather, it is a time of reflection for those who are already believers. In other words the way Easter is currently celebrated is deprived of missionary expectations. Christians spend the time thinking and talking about the resurrection with each other. The outside world knows of the celebration but it’s not because Christians are going out to tell them. (This is not to say that there are no Christians talking about the resurrection. If this was the case the rocks would have cried out.) They know it because the media speaks on it. Thus, the resurrection, an event that caused the grieving disciples of Jesus to be strengthen and press on with the mission given, doesn’t seem to be motivational enough to get cultural Christianity–Christians that simply uphold ecclesiastical traditions–up off the couch and out of the pews to explain the story to the outside world.

Perhaps one of the hindrances to this missionary approach is lack of knowledge concerning the resurrection. How can Christians be expected to tell of a story they don’t know much about? This is an opinion and has no tangible support. But, I suspect that if churches were to assign a 100 word essay to their members to describe what happened before and after the crucifixion, they would be surprised. Assuming to know because we have heard it from the lips of another before is not proof that we know. The only way to know if what was heard was accurate is to investigate it from the primary source.

The lack of a major missional buzz from believers is proof that most are not reading and thinking of the resurrection. It is impossible to believe that all of that is being done and it only produce a few passionate souls. Christianity is prayerfully reading and thinking about the resurrection and only a handful feel moved to speak to the world? I think not. What’s likely is that most of us are not praying and reading, and as a result, no fire burns to share what is learned.

As an Adventist, I’m aware that there has always been major conflicts within our ranks concerning what to do with Easter. Where we have found common ground is not in a festival that incorporates imagery from all sorts of origins, but in reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, we don’t seem to be different from the rest of Christendom when it comes to sharing during this time. We are plagued with the same issue: a resurrection spoken of only at home and the church.

Is it the resurrection that produces silence? No. It’s our lack of understand of and appreciation for the significance of that resurrection. Somehow we have grown cold and are in dire need of a resurrection ourselves. At this time the best way to go about initiating this is to go back to the most important resurrection: that of Jesus Christ. May we study and experience a personal spiritual resurrection so we can talk about the risen one.

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The Great Commission

Part of being a Christian is to engage oneself in the carrying out of the great commission (Matt. 28:16-20). Typically, in a Sabbath morning Adventist worship service, there is a segment set aside for reporting on and motivating the members to evangelize. The passage concerning the great commission is often read, however, perhaps due to  the scheduling of the segment, or the seriousness with which it is taken and/or presented, profoundly tangible results are rarely seen.

In response to this apparent crisis, some have form evangelistic groups consisting of a coalition of the willing to flood the surrounding neighborhoods with pamphlets and books. Others have sought to fulfill the mandate through one on one conversations with those they meet while engaging in daily affairs. I prefer the latter. How one chooses to respond to the innate call of presenting the good news they have received to others must be grounded in fundamental concepts as observable in Matthew 28:16-20. This is not to suggest that one will be unable to tell the good news without a breakdown of this passage, however, it is to bring attention to what we usually miss in our haste to do what we think we ought to.

Analysis of this passage reveals that Jesus sandwiches the command (vs. 19 and 20a) between two statements concerning Himself. The first statement is one in which He assures the disciples– οἱ ἕνδεκα, “the eleven,” since Judas was no longer a part–of the authority that He has on heaven and earth (28:18). This authority is not one that He takes, but one that is “given” (28:19 NIV). We ought to deduce that God is functioning as the giver. The second statement is one in which He assures them of His continuous presence (28:20b). As if this was the last thing that needed saying, the gospel abruptly ends.

The word that is translated as “authority” in the NIV and “power” in the KJV is the Greek word ἐξουσία (exousia). The fact that He has “all” of it in “heaven and on earth” emphasizes the totality of this authority. It is unlimited and unmatched. The different spheres of reality–things visible and invisible–are all subject to this authority. Furthermore, the One with such an authority also promises His continuous presence. These were the assurances given from a tangible being that had resurrected from the dead.

Before any explanation is given on the command, there is something to note concerning whom Jesus was speaking to and the condition in which some of them were in. Jesus was speaking to disciples consisting of some who doubted if He was really there in the flesh. In spite of the doubt, “they [all] worshiped” and were commanded. Jesus did not make any distinction between those who doubted and those who didn’t, He called all of them to the task of disciple making.

There is a need to escape the habit of categorizing individuals in terms of evangelistic qualifications. In fact, we don’t know what God can do with the ones whom we believe to be inadequate. In the case of the disciples, some doubted. Today, there might be many reasons why some may think that certain individuals are not capable. Let’s not forget that it takes disciples to make disciples and none of them were perfect. The ones who continued on with Jesus were striving forward in spite of their deficiencies.

What is the great commission? It is God’s mission for His people, first through the first century disciples, then followed by preceding believers. In a way, the great commission was always God’s plan for His people. We are sent out to participate in the act of making disciples. Disciple making does not only involve baptizing, but it involves teaching. Usually, there is much excitement concerning baptism but no one is around when the water dries. The new believer is left to fend for his/herself while we watch and criticize their sincerity.

Perhaps it’s time we start really reflecting on what is our mission as the people of God. Some time ago I wrote a piece entitled, “Ecclesiology: Introductory Thoughts About the Church.” I hope to continue that series in two blogs in the future by first writing on the nature of the church, and then it’s mission–which is introduced here. I look forward to your comments.