This Easter, I find myself asking:
What, if anything, does the resurrection of Jesus mean for us followers of Christ today who are watching with disbelief, frustration, and horror as the very fabric of our nation unravels before our very eyes?
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And what does the resurrection have to say about faith in a time of great strife and repression?
To help answer these questions, let’s turn to John’s gospel, which beautifully captures the human interactions between Jesus, His disciples, and the people around them. After all, our nation’s story at its core is simply one of people–flawed human beings with various levels of delegated authority or relational influence. John’s gospel was written after the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD when his own nation was unraveling. Despite those circumstances, he still penned his gospel, knowing the story of Jesus he was witness to was the key to existence and far above earthly trials: “…these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20.31).
The last two chapters of John’s gospel describe several of Jesus’ resurrection appearances which help answer the question, “How should we now live?” in these turbulent times.
We can live knowing Jesus values and embraces the marginalized (John 20.1-18). John’s gospel records Mary Magdalene–a woman–as the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Despite the clear marginalization of women in that time, Jesus honored her with the task of sharing with the other disciples the news of his resurrection and of his imminent glorification. When we value everyone in our midst–regardless of the policies we or they oppose or support–we advance God’s kingdom by cutting through the deep divisions of our day.
We can live knowing Jesus empowers us to forgive (John 20.19-22). In Jesus’ first appearance to all the disciples together, John records that He equipped the disciples with an initial impartation of the Holy Spirit. What was the main purpose of that impartation? “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20.23). Likewise, we are called on to forgive others. That can be difficult in a time of such partisanship, but that is exactly why we need to redouble our efforts to call on the Holy Spirit to give us the grace to forgive those who do wrong or do not agree with us. This is also the time to pray for Christ-following leaders to stay the course while doing it in the spirit of grace and forgiveness.
We can live knowing Jesus can personally touch the skeptic (John 20.24-31). Jesus’ patience with Thomas is instructional: in a culture that is at least suspicious of and at worst violently hostile to the claims of Christianity, we see Jesus willing to kindly address the objections of the doubter. Do we have the faith and love to believe that even those most antagonistic to Christianity and its moral claims can encounter the resurrected Christ in such a way as to cry out with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20.28)? Let’s communicate with and pray for our enemies and skeptical friends with that end in mind.
We can live knowing Jesus sees us and loves us relationally (John 21.1-14). In this, my favorite resurrection narrative of the Bible, a downcast Peter and six other disciples go fishing. They first encounter the Lord through His miraculous provision of fish, and this leads them to share breakfast with Him. Of all the ways that Jesus could have revealed His resurrected self to his friends and mentees, He chose to do so in a way that met them exactly where their needs were, drawing them to connect with Him relationally. Don’t we believe that Jesus can similarly reach our friends, neighbors, and government leaders, regardless of their political leanings, such that they say, “It is the Lord!” (John 21.7)? And don’t we believe that Jesus wants to connect with them through us? Let’s believe for, pray for, and cultivate relationships with our adversaries near and far knowing that Jesus desires to connect with their hearts to effect an inside-out spiritual transformation.
We can live knowing Jesus loves restoring people who fail (John 21.15-25). Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter is the Lord redemptively taking Peter through one of the most painful episodes of his life. Jesus’ threefold questioning of Peter’s love for Him echoes Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus only days earlier. Instead of punishing Peter’s failure, Jesus gently touches Peter’s shame with His love, bestowing upon him the highest of callings and enabling his disciple to walk fully into the dignity of his God-ordained destiny and identity. Not one of us is without shame–including our friends in the government sphere. As believers in the resurrected Jesus, we can point anyone to the One who uncovers our shame, heals us with His forgiving love, and sets us back onto the path of our best possible selves. Anyone, along with Peter, can hear Jesus restoratively saying, “You must follow me” (John 21.22).
At this time of distress, we followers of Christ do well to look to the Cross to turn the spotlight from what is unfolding around us and turn it back onto ourselves. This Easter, let us ask: do we have the faith, hope, and love to know the resurrected Jesus of John’s gospel? Are we assured of Jesus’ capacity to break into the lives of our nearby friends and our faraway government leaders? The future of our country depends on our answers, and the resurrection of Jesus has everything to do with this national moment. Let’s believe that Jesus still has many chapters that He wants to write in the stories of our families, our friends, and our nation, such that “if every one of them were [to be] written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21.25).