Our observance of Easter joyously celebrates the new life in Christ erupting through the pall of death that overshadows all of creation. The resurrection of Jesus is the pivot point on which the door of death swings open to life. Christ has forever opened the door of the tomb that entraps us in the fear of death. In conversation with a friend recently, he remarked how vulnerable he feels in his fifties. He knows that the days ahead of him are shorter than the days ahead. Mortality is the reality that overshadows all of life. The promise of eternal life through Christ is our great comfort.
Resurrection life has another dimension which is equally important. Resurrection life loosens the grip of death on us as we shed the habits that perpetuate the destructive power of death such as hate, racism and violence, not to mention the more personal habits of greed, lust and dishonesty which reek with the stench of the tomb.
The habits of death do not die easily. Like this year’s winter, they reluctantly release their grasp on us. The horror of their ways are all around us as we endure a constant litany of violence whether in Newtown, CT, Augusta, GA, Aurora, CO, Blacksburg, VA or Sanford, FL. The evil of racism still has us in its clutches. I wonder what hateful attitudes my bi-racial grandson will face as he grows up that will color his image of himself. Like the guards at the tomb, the habits of death want to keep us in the thrall of death. They do not release their grip on us easily or willingly. We dare not underestimate them or their destructive power. We have seen too many families destroyed by lust; too many poor impoverished by greed; too many wounded by the terrorism of hate.
In a world weary of the reign of death, the life of the church is a counter force. As a resurrection people centered in Christ’s cross and resurrection, we are invited to become a community which practices those habits that lead to life: the habits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul speaks of these habits as “fruits of the Spirit” because they grow from our companionship with Christ.
Resurrection life is life in Christ. It is life aided by the disciplines of prayer, fasting and worship. Prayer binds us to Christ. Fasting frees us from the “needs” that drive us. Worship invites us to experience the alternative realm of the Kingdom of Heaven of which we are now citizens. And the active habits of loving our enemy, practicing compassion, doing the right thing by others and working to mend broken relationships are the practices that lead to new life.
We sing, Alleluia! For in the death and resurrection of Jesus, “[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Col 1:13
Roy Medley, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA