Who Ripped Off Easter?
May 21, 2017
When we got our first Peter’s Projection map, or the New World Map, our daughter Sarah looked at it and said who ripped off the United States. In that map, the African continent is in the center and North America is off to the side.
Well, I’ve been feeling like somebody ripped off Easter this year. Most of you know about the Grinch who stole Christmas. Well, to be frank, for me and a lot of others, Donald Trump, or more accurately, Trumpism stole Easter. Now that may be crossing the line on clerical political neutrality from the pulpit. But we are at the point where we can’t stay behind the lines. And, anyway, most of you here know me, and you know where I, as well as most of you, am coming from. I could do this a bit more subtly but for today, anyway, I just need to be more out there. Mary and I were recently at a gathering with William Barber the leader of the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina. He emphasized over and over that we can’t remain silent at the evil facing our country these days. He said there are people in a lot of churches who can’t really confront Trumpism. So he called on us in churches who can, to speak boldly and openly to what is happening in our country.
There is a lot of hate and fear and darkness, not just around the world but in our own country. And though I wish this could all be laid on one person or one political party, it is more complicated than that. But, there is a particular venom that Donald Trump appealed to in his campaign. And nothing about him has changed into his first four months as the President of the United States of America. Not only does he appeal to our darker angels, but he does so with abandon. And it’s not even reckless abandon, but well thought out abandon.
While we are in the season of resurrection, he and what he represents, keeps dragging us back to the tomb. They want to put Jesus back, but we can’t let them.
This is the time for us to get serious about resurrection. We know that the darkness does not overcome the light, but that doesn’t mean the darkness doesn’t stop trying. And it has shown us in these days that it is not about to let up. I never thought that something, for example, as simple as kind words or kind gestures could be thought of as political acts. But then I started reading people from the alt right dismissing kindness as nothing more than political correctness. Kindness, in the era of Trumpism, is now an act of resurrection. Every step we take toward resurrection, every time we decide that this is a day, this is a time, this is a moment, this is an opportunity to be alive in Jesus, we are beating back the darkness.
This is what we read from the Apostle Paul in Romans 6. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
We can’t let anyone, including Donald Trump, take Easter from us. We have to keep coming alive with Jesus, keep being the Body of Christ, the living presence of the living Jesus in the world. The last thing rulers like Donald Trump want is us coming alive with Jesus and actually being the Body of Christ.
Last week was commencement at Liberty University which was founded by Jerry Falwell. His son, Jerry Falwell, Jr. is now the President of that school. You may have heard the rather unremarkable commencement address Donald Trump gave for them. It was the same old stuff, but with some added talk about football schedules. But what we need to pay much more attention to are the words of Jerry Fallwell, Jr., who has been an active promoter of Donald Trump. He told those in attendance that having Donald Trump as President was the best thing that could have happened for Christians in this country.
First of all, that is just plain wrong. Donald Trump is no friend of Christianity. But more importantly, can you imagine Jesus ever saying that what we should be looking for is what’s best for Christians? What Jesus wants us looking for is what’s best for everybody. Back in the fall, the study group read Jim Wallis’ book On God’s Side, What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good. Religion makes a big mistake when its primary public posture is to protect itself and its own interests. It’s even worse when religion tries to use politics to enforce its own codes and beliefs or to use the force of law to control the behavior of others. Religion does much better when it leads—when it actually cares about the needs of everybody, not just its own community, and when it makes the best inspirational and commonsense case, in a pluralistic democracy, for public policies that express the core values of faith in regard to how we should all treat our neighbors. (page 6)
The last book in the Bible, The Revelation of St. John warns us about the ways Christianity can be undermined. One is by the kings of the earth, and their generals, the political and military powers that try to defeat the church, the Body of Christ, by violence. The other is the whore of Babylon who seduces us with the promise of the pleasure that comes through power. I fear that Rev. Falwell, Jr. and many others in the American church, and don’t get me started on Franklin Graham, have climbed into her bed. This hope for a vibrant white Christian nationalism with White Christian Pastors serving as its chaplains is a miserable bowl of porridge for our birthright.
This is the time of the year when we celebrate Oberlin. We know the story of the underground railroad and how this town took leadership in undermining the Fugitive Slave Law because we believed in God’s higher law. But even as Oberlin became a more and more secular place, this legacy that had been left by those early Christian settlers continued its influence. I read somewhere that a book written in the 1920’s pointed out that the Oberlin School of Theology had trained over half the Black clergy who at that time, had had formal theological training. That’s when Jim Crow laws were being entrenched in this country. In World War II, when our government was putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps, they were admitted to Oberlin College. When academics were being blacklisted in the 1950’s by the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and being fired from their teaching positions, they were being hired by Oberlin.
There are no two schools in the United States of America more different than what Liberty University and Oberlin College are. One is proudly Christian, the other proudly secular. But in these days where is the life and light coming from? Who is fighting the death and darkness, who has baptized it? Why is it easier to find Easter in Oberlin than in Lynchburg? What God is doing is much bigger than what Donald Trump or any politician is doing. Life is so much more than death. We can do all we can to bring about less death in this world by focusing on how we are going to stop Donald Trump. Or we can decide that we want more life rather than less death, and focus on what God is doing. Donald Trump is more than happy for us to go looking for Jesus among the dead.
We have spent much of this year exploring what it means to be weird church, using the book Weird Church: Welcome to the 21st Century. If we are alive in Jesus, the church is going to end up in some new places, both physically and metaphorically. Before dawn on that Easter morning, things looked pretty grim. Once again, death had proven what it claims it can do. But then, everything changed. But when everything changes, it doesn’t happen all at once. Just ask the disciples. The church in this country was experiencing change long before Trumpism came along. But now we are learning what the stakes really are. Now is our time, now is the time for the revealing of the children of God, the weird Easter people.
Maybe I had just gotten complacent by expecting Easter to keep showing up. Maybe I am learning what a lot of people have experienced for a long time, there are all kinds of people fighting tooth and claw to steal Easter. It turns out that being the Body of Christ is a choice we make every day. It’s not just going to be handed to us. People like Donald Trump are not going to stand by and just let us come to life in Jesus. As I have often said, these folk know the power of the Gospel better than we do. And they do their best to keep us from finding it for ourselves. They are not going to let Easter just come to us. So the only alternative is that we have to go and find it. We are not going to let Donald Trump get away with ripping off Easter. Resurrection is resistance.