Hope in the face of an Easter explosionBy Mark Hammontree | 03/27/2016 5:03pm
Sunday, as I got myself ready for church with my family, families in Lahore, Pakistan, wept and grieved after an explosion shattered the peace in a local park and took at least 60 lives.
I read the headlines in the car as we drove to Easter services, the vibrant splendor of spring in Mountain Brook, Alabama, outside my passenger window. In the service, we sang of the Resurrection and of the defeat of death. We sang of the magnitude of that event, when the ground shook and the stone was rolled away revealing a tomb empty of the body it had held.
Hours before we sang those words, the ground also shook in Lahore, and death argued against the story of its defeat. In the steady stream of news stories of bombings and violence in cities across the world, it’s hard to see hope in a world seemingly bent on division and destruction. Easter provides that hope.
Central to the Christian faith is the fulfillment of a promise. See, Jesus was not simply a teacher or a servant or a leader. He was not just a man who loved unconditionally and advocated for the marginalized and the oppressed. He was all of those things, yes, but he was also a man who claimed to be the son of God. He was a man who promised that he would be delivered to his enemies, crucified, and who would then be raised from the dead.
Christians speak often about the first part of that promise. “Jesus died for you,” we sing and proclaim. Jesus, who was fully man and wholly God, who was perfect and innocent, took on the punishment for the world’s sins, so that you may have eternal life.
That story, however, is incomplete without the Resurrection. Yes, Christ endured torture and humiliation for our sins, and that in itself is powerful and amazing. But then He rose from the dead and brought with Him hope for a world made whole and a life everlasting.
We say that Christ “defeated death,” and perhaps that is misleading, because death obviously remains a reality of our world. Perhaps we should say instead that Christ put a comma where there was once a period. Yes, death remains, but no longer does it signal an end to the story. Rather it ushers in a continuation and a redemption of creation.
The Resurrection gives us hope for Heaven, and by Heaven, I don’t mean a painted city in the clouds, but Heaven on earth, a life lived in perfect communion with all of Creation and with a loving Creator. The Resurrection is a promise fulfilled, and in that promise we find peace and joy.
At least, that’s what I found in that promise. See, there was a time when I didn’t believe any of these things, and Easter, like any other Sunday, was simply a day of traditions, some nice, others tiresome. Like so many others, I’d go through the motions, but never experience the fulfillment so often promised to me.
As with many who grow up with divorced parents, I hid the pain and resentment that sat deep within me through jokes and winks. I was angry and impatient, uncharitable and jealous. I was prideful, and I yet I had no confidence. I felt broken.
Christians will often share their “stories” of the moment they were saved, and I suppose I have one of those, but for me it was much less of a light bulb moment and more a slow and continuing wrestling match. I didn’t emerge from a worship service free from the uglier aspects of my personality. Rather, I began to pray and study and cry and sing and gradually, over the course of months, I began sense a shift and to experience a peace unlike anything I’d previously known.
I began to quite literally see the world and people around me differently. I saw the same wounds like I had seen in myself, and I also saw scars where the world had started to heal.
You see, Heaven is gradual. I may be saved but I’m still working on being redeemed. I still get jealous, and I still lose patience. I’m too often vain and too rarely gracious. Sometimes my scars split, and I lose faith that they will be healed. But Christ gives me assurance.
The wounds and pains of the world are much larger than my own. I do not mean to equate them, because they are not the same. But God’s love is infinite and his glory complete. His promise is not just for me, but for the world.
So today, as you celebrate the Resurrection, keep the people of Lahore (and Brussels, and Iskandariya, and too many other cities) in your prayers.
We still live in a broken world, divided and torn by hate, fear and violence. But today we celebrate a promise that was kept, a promise that after death comes life, after pain comes joy, after crucifixion comes resurrection. That promise gives hope for a world redeemed, and we should take Easter as a command to continue daily the process of resurrection wherever we are.
Because Christ kept His promise, we have assurance in our hope. Have faith, remain joyful, breathe hope and ready your hands for the task of healing our world and preparing the Kingdom.
Mark Hammontree is a senior majoring in secondary education-language arts. His column runs biweekly.