Christus Victor in this Divided America
Two events broke on the news this week. On the surface they might have little in common. But, coincidence brought them together in the days before Easter. Now, these disparate and yet similar events are addressed by the resurrection of the Christ.
1. On Saturday of this week, the News-Sentinel reported that about 30 U.S. governors, including Governor Bredesen of Tennessee were sent an ultimatum. "Resign in three days, or you will be removed." The group called the Guardians of the Free Republics wants to "restore America" by peacefully dismantling parts of the government, according to its Web site. It sent letters to governors demanding they leave office or be removed. They made no specific threat of violence, and yet the message is intended to intimidate. This small group, which none of us have heard of, would force its will on all the rest of us who only voted.
2. The second news story came earlier in the week from Michigan, where a Christian militia group, which called itself Hutaree, was broken up and its members arrested by the FBI. The group’s stated purpose was to battle the anti-Christ. And their plan, according to the FBI was to start an uprising against the government. They would begin by killing a local law-enforcement officer and then mounting a guerrilla attack on the officer’s funeral, which would certainly be attended by officers from the region and around the nation. They would use the natural and commendable brotherhood of police officers as the vulnerability which would make their attack most effective. This second story is particularly chilling because this group has chosen to wrap itself in the name of Christ.
While we do our very best to distance ourselves from such extreme views and from those who would use violence to force their politics on others, by wrapping themselves in the cause of Christianity, this group has traipsed into our Easter sanctuary and taken a seat on the bench next to each one of us. While all of us anticipate and appreciate the pretty Easter dresses that come out on this day, few of us expect to see Easter outfits in crisp, new camo. And few Church Streeters come to church as well armed as they seem to come. This second group goes beyond the intimidation of the first by planning to use violence and lethal force to achieve its goals.
These two events are examples of the growing sense of division that is affecting this nation. We can see it:
–in the way people discuss emotionally charged issues; or rather stake out positions without really listening to any others;
–in the coarse treatment of public and elected officials,
–We saw the hardening positions in the recent healthcare debate in Congress.
What we have lost over the past several years as we have divided into many camps is the sense that we are one people with a shared story. Unity is replaced by groups and parties which have little time or interest in listening to anyone except themselves.
II. I believe that the atmosphere of division that infects the country and even the Christian faith has something to learn first at the communion table. Second, it has something to learn from Easter resurrection.
A. The lesson for this divided nation begins at the table where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. As Adam Hamilton pointed out in the video which accompanied the Lenten study book (1), the two people sitting on either side of Jesus at the Last Supper were most likely John, the Beloved Disciple, and Judas, the one who betrayed him.
At the supper, Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray him. According to the gospel, Simon Peter asked John, who was sitting beside Jesus, to ask him who it was. When John pressed the question, Jesus said, “It is the one with whom I share the dish.” In other words, it was the one sitting beside Jesus, close enough that they were dipping their food from the same dish. The astonishing fact of the Last Supper is that Jesus knew who would betray him, and yet he went ahead and shared the meal and shared his dish with Judas. And further, when Judas went out to do his dirty work, Jesus did not tackle him or call for the others to stop him; instead, Jesus let him go.
You see, Judas believed that force would get the results he wanted. Jesus chose a different path.
The lesson for all of us who are being taught to harden our differences is that Christ shows us a different way. Knowing that Judas would betray him, Jesus said to Judas, “You are welcome at the table.” In the same way, we must learn that the Table of Christ is not just for those who agree or only those who share our politics.
• Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner are welcome at the Table.
• President Obama and Candidate Palin are welcome at the Table.
• The homeless man who won’t turn loose of his backpack and the President of the University are welcome at the Table.
• He may not get it, but the elusive Osama bin Laden is invited to the Table.
• I may have a hard time with it, but the Hutaree Christian militants are welcome at the Table this Easter.
Christ welcomed all of his disciples to the Table, knowing what they would do:
–Judas who would betray him,
–Simon Peter who would deny him,
–All the rest of his disciples who would desert him.
[APPLIC] The lesson of the Communion Table is this: Those who would destroy others in the name of Christ have it wrong. The Table of Christ is a place of extraordinary welcome; division has no place here. And further, the Table of Christ is the standard for all our political speech: Argue your politics with passion but never allow politics to diminish the affection and respect that Christ has taught you for the neighbor, the opponent, or the outsider.
As Christians, we are called to learn from the extraordinary welcome of the Lord’s Table. We are called to let it shape the way we debate our politics. We are called to let it shape the way we treat both our friends and our enemies.
B. The second lesson of Easter also began earlier, before the empty tomb. The forces which conspired to destroy Jesus were forces which were willing to destroy life in order to cling to their way of life:
–Judas was willing to betray Jesus into the hands of the Temple leaders in order to force his hand OR perhaps to express his disappointment or disapproval of Jesus. Regardless, force was his chosen tool.
–The Temple leaders were willing to capture Jesus in order to silence him;
–Pilate was willing to crucify Jesus in order to protect himself from even the possibility that he might be a pretender to his throne as ruler of Israel.
–The crowd was willing the scream out, “Crucify!” in order that the Jesus problem might be solved.
The conviction of the people who moved to destroy Jesus was a willingness to use violence or even kill as the surest path to the world they wanted to see. But Easter teaches us that Jesus chose a different path. It is the path of the cross and Easter.
A. You see, on Easter, God opened the tomb and raised Jesus from the dead to make the point once and for all that Death has no authority over anything which is of God. Once and for all, the empty tomb makes the point that God will have the last word about this life and every life.
–the Son of God cannot be driven from the earth by death;
–those who cling to the Son by faith may hear 1000 voices raised against them but in the end only one voice will prevail and that will be the voice of God;
–the destructive labels people put on us due to our politics or ethnic origin or religion or gender cannot be the last word said about us. The last word spoken about us is the loving voice of the Savior, who showed his kind of love in that he absorbed all the world's hatred even though it nailed him to a cross.
B. On Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead to make the point once and for all that his words and his deeds are of God and cannot be silenced. Christ is the Victor over the every path that requires destruction.
–That he really healed the lepers by the power of God.
–that he really stilled the storm by the power of the One who created the storm.
–that his teachings about holiness and community and love are not just thoughtful words from a wise teacher but God’s Word for us.
On Easter, Christ was victorious over the cross and the grave. And now no grave can hold him. No power can destroy him. No discouragement can destroy those who hold to him by faith.
I invite you to the Table – to receive Christ's bread and the wine. Let this be for us a foretaste of the Kingdom which God is has promised – the kingdom which God has begun now in the life of the Church.
–Come, you who are worthy, you who have your ducks in a row.
–Come, you who have no right to claim anything, you who were hoping to slip in unnoticed. What do you imagine that God would miss?
–Come, you who had it but lost it, and have no idea where to look.
–Come, you who haven’t any idea what happens in this mysterious sharing of grace.
The Risen Lord meets us in the breaking of the bread and the serving of the cup. Hold out your hands to receive the bread just as you hold out your hands to receive grace from God’s hand daily. And as the bread is pressed into your hands, whisper the ancient shout of Easter morning: “Christ is risen!”
RESPONSE: “Christ is risen, indeed!”
1. Hamilton, Adam. 24-Hours that Changed the World.