Don Follis: In spite of what we see this Easter, we keep living by faith
At age 14 I was baptized on Easter Sunday morning along with my younger brother and two other teen-age brothers. Those other boys didn't like me, and I didn't like them. Being in the same church had no affect on that.
We four rubber band-shooting, teenage boys stood in front of the baptismal tank, all in a straight line in our white baptismal robes. The pastor one-by-one asked us to renounce our evil ways and then dunked each of us under the water, saying, "Buried with Christ and rising to walk in new life with him."
Ironically, that following summer I ended up working for the dad of those two boys. At the end of the summer he told me, "You're the first kid to ever work for me who I couldn't teach how to do this job."
That was mean, but it does go to show that every person who is part of a community of faith discovers soon enough that if you go to church you will be there with people who don't like you. You will see them praising God with you as you sing and pray.
Easter Sunday, like few other Sundays during the year, brings out the regular attenders, the Christmas-and-Easter-only attenders, the visiting in-laws and outlaws, the mean employers, the penguins and the dancing bears. All gathered in one accord to celebrate the resurrection.
The big Easter crowd makes me agree, sometimes reluctantly, with the line from the old hymn: "There is room at the cross for you." Everyone needy pilgrim, every breathing human, is welcome to gather in the shadow of the cross. In the end, it doesn't matter where you go to church or even how often. In Jesus' parable of the workers, those who started working early in the morning for an agreed upon wage and those who only worked for an hour late in the afternoon, both get the same pay. Indeed, everyone is welcome.
Even so, don't eat too many jelly beans today and get lulled into thinking that just because we are all together on Easter somehow means that we are all going to spend our summer vacation together. Don't let the big crowd's trick you into thinking there is great unity within the world-wide Christian flock.
It is true that before his crucifixion, Jesus asked God to make his entire flock one, uniting them in God-like unity. In fact, today world Christian growth watchers believe there are some 34,000 identifiable Christian groups. Good luck trying to figure all that out.
Yet another person last week asked me, "What are the essentials of faith, anyway?" For the umpteenth time, I pointed to the Apostle Paul's arguments in his letter to the Corinthian church saying that it comes down to three words: "Jesus is Lord." Thankfully, Easter Sunday is one of the times during the year when most Christians proclaim in unison, "He is risen. He is risen indeed."
We faithful hang on those short sentences because we have to. None of us, in whatever church tribe we find ourselves, escapes the troubles of this world. Far from it. A few days ago in the March 23 online edition of the Christian Post Newspaper a piece explained that from 2003 to today only 57 of the 300 churches in Iraq remain. Thousands of Christians have fled Iraq in the last decade. An adjoining piece reports that thousands of Syrian Christians are also leaving Syria, many now living in fear in camps on the Syrian/Lebanon border.
Pick your country. Pick your Christian tribe. Examples abound where the faithful are barely holding on. The Easter morning proclamation of "He is risen," does not mitigate Jesus' words, "In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world." Jesus followers down through the ages always have, and always will, celebrate Easter living by faith, not by trouble-free lives.
Pastor John Piippo [johnpiippo.com] writes about deciding to preach his Easter sermon from Ephesians 5:15-16. "Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."
For Piippo, it is crucial to celebrate Easter with care and gratitude, in the very face of the troubled world. Hope is born in the midst of trials. Thus, each day we face the world head on, even as we turn toward God, with complete thankfulness for every single breath. "The objective of our gratitude each day must be God. If God did not exist, then this thankfulness I feel would be absurd," writes Piippo.
We wandering pilgrims are grateful on this Easter day that we can meet our problems head on. With God's help we will strive to make the most of what He has given us. And with his wisdom and aid we say, "He is risen. He is risen indeed."
Easter day, Resurrection Sunday, is a day to savor, to rejoice, to give thanks, that in spite of what we see, we step out in faith boldly praising the risen God from whom all blessings really do flow.
Don Follis has pastored in Champaign-Urbana for 34 years. He directs retreats and coaches leaders via pastortopastorinitiatives.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter at @donfollis.