Christ is Risen . . . . He is risen indeed!
Phil Jump reflects on the political consequences of Jesus' life alongside our response as Christians to the intensive electioneering that awaits after Easter
This traditional Easter greeting will resound through many churches on Easter Sunday. It captures the excitement of the first disciples as they began to realise that Jesus, whose death they had witnessed, true to his promise had risen again.
But the greeting is more than a celebration of an historical event.
Those with an eye for detail will notice that it communicates in the present tense; it is a declaration of Christ’s identity in the here and now; an affirmation that those who gather in his name today, encounter the living Jesus. The events of the first Easter morning have implications for every generation of Christian believers.
I remember some time ago being on a pre-Easter retreat with a group of church leaders. One of our conversations centred on how our various traditions tend to place emphasis on different parts of the Lent and Easter narrative.
Some spoke of the importance of Good Friday, valuing the image of a God who could experience the depth of human suffering. Others emphasised Easter Day with its powerful declaration of Christ’s victory over death itself. Some spoke of the practice of foot-washing, based on the events of Maundy Thursday, and its intense expression of mutual fellowship and servanthood; some from the Orthodox tradition shared their experience of spending Holy Saturday in silence and darkness, reflecting on Christ being contained by the tomb.
After a while, one of our number announced “the most important day for me is Bank Holiday Monday!” The room filled with laughter, assuming it was simply a quip – the words of a busy minister who was looking forward to a well-earned rest after a heavy schedule of services and celebrations. But as the laughter died down, he qualified his comment with a profound observation “because what really matters is not how we remember the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus, but how we then live the rest of our lives in the light of them.”
This year in the United Kingdom, Holy Week has coincided with the formal start of the General Election campaign. This is likely to dominate the everyday life of the world into which we emerge as an Easter People, and its result could affect the kind of society in which we find ourselves in the months and years ahead. And this is the world into which the risen Christ commissions us to go as his messengers.
John’s Gospel records a miraculous encounter between Jesus and his disciples on the evening of Easter day. Jesus announces “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. This commission does not simply place the message of Christ at the heart of our Christian discipleship, but roots our response to it, in his life and death. We are sent, just as Jesus was sent – our engagement with the world is to be modelled, inspired and informed by his engagement with the world.
And when we observe the “word become flesh,” we cannot avoid the conclusion that the coming of Christ had political consequences. His death on a cross, was not a religious execution, but a political one - arranged by the ruling authorities of Rome.
In the years before, as Jesus had won affection and acclaim from the masses, it was the political rulers of his day who were most at odds with what he said and did. His life and message impacted kings, governors and ruling councils; his parables addressed issues of racial tension and multi-culturalism; marriage and family life; wealth and poverty – all issues that will find their way onto today’s election agendas.
Jesus was to be found in conversation and debate with teachers of the law; locked in controversy about work-life balance and the use of the Sabbath, declarations about oppression, justice and equality; he was eventually crucified with the politically volatile notice above his head “this is the King of the Jews”.
And with the scars of execution on his hands and his sides, breathing the power of his Spirit into his bewildered disciples, Jesus declared – “in the same way, I am now sending you.” The commission to his followers, is to declare that same Gospel, with all of its political and economic consequences, with a renewed authority and confidence because Jesus has engaged with and overcome the principalities and powers that were mustered against him.
The resurrection of Jesus points us to a life beyond this world, but resurrection only makes sense if it is preceded by death. Christ could not declare his victory over death, if he had not first subjected himself to it – and his death on a cross was the earthly climax of a ministry that confronted, challenged and engaged with the political narratives of his day.
“In the same way,” he declares “I now send you”. We are called to engage with this world, to apply our Gospel truths and vision of God’s Kingdom to the issues before us.
Bank Holiday Monday will quickly give way to just over four weeks of intensive electioneering. In its midst, our encounter with the risen Christ does not distract us, but focuses our attention at its very heart.
The Revd Phil Jump is Regional Minister Team Leader of the North Western Baptist Association