In the barbershop parlance this Maundy Thursday morning, in which I was engaged with my barber and another sage patron, the roaming discussion ranged over a wealth of worthy topics — from cost of agricultural fertilizer to supply chain suspicions to the overall brow-raising misgivings regarding media in general (and with a brief excursion into the necessary chat regarding weather and predictions over when ice will be coming of MN lakes this spring)… — my barber friend summed up the conversation in fitting candor to which we all nodded: “It’s hard not to be a skeptic.”
Yes. It is — hard, not to be a skeptic. And if there is a day in the year of the Church, and at the core of Her testimony and mission to the world, most apt (and honestly most worthy of skepticism), it is THIS day, Easter.
Could it be that the pinnacle climactic event of all of scripture, the linchpin of the Promise pulsing through the Old Covenant, and the staking of all validity of the mission and message of the Church and the sole hope of all her members — the Easter Sunday morning rising of Jesus from the tomb into everlasting life and triumph over sin, the devil and the grave for all of us — could it be that Easter is true? The barbershop confession reverberates through our world, and often enough in the corners of our own hearts: “It’s hard not to be a skeptic.”
For the last twenty years, I have kept a large signed print of the work by a Christian artist, Tom duBois, who paints biblical themes in the surreal. The one that hangs on my wall is one of his set from the Noahic flood, called “The Celebration.” The painting was framed and presented to me as a parting gift from a congregation I formerly served. It has always been special to me. The scene depicts the release from the ark of Noah and his family and the safari exhibition of animals — all turned loose into a new lush world made and kept in Promise of salvation and provision and rich full life after death. In duBois’ rendering of the scene, the lion and lamb figures are radiantly lit.
I have had scores of conversations and counseling sessions with parishioners and other friends sitting on a short couch under that print. These talks often drifted into truth, pain, and a resolving fatalism, in which the person (typically a believer) eventually arrived at the confession that they no longer held any hope for the disease, or the depression, or the marriage, or the child…
More times than I can count, I would listen to the person’s pain, sometimes inserting question or scripture or counseling suggestion or I hope some perspective of wisdom. And frequently enough, as I listened and looked at them, the heaviness of the story and situation would inversely point my eyes up, just over the top of my friend and behind them, to the painting on the wall.
And, sometimes, a number of times — when all words and counsel and listening and wisdom were spent, I would pause, often eyes glassing over, and ask them the last remaining question in my arsenal; the only tool left in the bottom of the chest; the last remaining card to be played. But that card saved was trump, at least with the believer. Looking more through than at them and focusing on the painting, I would ask,
“Do you believe in the resurrection?”
“Do you believe in the resurrection?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure I understand…”
“Do you believe in the resurrection? — the miracle you seek and disbelief is far less than the miracle you already have and believe”
This, I must admit, is no ministerial tactic original to me. I believe this is what the apostle Paul is effectively doing in that great resurrection hope 15th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church:
…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead (vv. 14,15,17,19,20).
So on this morning, I say to you, the Church, my Church (and so I say also to myself): “Do you believe in the resurrection?” Do you believe it for yourself, believe it for your sin, believe it for where you are hopelessly helplessly stuck — in relationship, in despair, in sin? “Do you believe in the resurrection?”
I say to you, ministers of the cross — both brother pastors and lay ministers — who have been slogging hard through a long season in which the visible effect of your ministry in this isolating and divisive season may feel simply depressing; and through this much shorter season of build up and flurry for all the preparations of this Holy Week with all its coordinate anticipations: “Do you believe in the resurrection?” This week so full, so rich, so replete with expectancy not only for the risen Lord, but also for the rising up of the congregation you serve: do you believe the gospel you preach? Do you believe in the new life, in the sure hope of resurrection reunion, in the trouncing victory in the now over sin, death, and the devil?!? Do you believe it for yourself — for your family, for your own soul — “do you believe in the resurrection?”
And so this day, this Easter, for the world we have this word, this question. And while there seem many signs that interest our Word and question is waning and its answer irrelevant at best if not scoffingly refused in this age, know this: The ache of the world is the same today as the day Jesus rose. The world’s deadness in sin and unbelief is no more dead now than at every age and mission of the Church. Your neighbor’s necessity and potential candidacy for resurrection is personally impossible and helpless, and simultaneously absolutely possible in the power of the Word of this Gospel.
So I say to us all this Easter, ask the question. Let it resonate in the hope and confidence displayed in your life before your family and neighbor and stranger: “do you believe in the resurrection?”
Paul Larson, CLB President