As students of John Calvin, our realistic assessment of human nature can wax cynical. Sure, it’s one thing to say that our virtuous works are tainted by self-interest. It’s another thing to assume the worst of one another — especially when we know that the cross and resurrection bestowed not just electing grace but sanctifying grace, too. Indeed, Good Friday’s atoning eclipse gave way to Easter’s empowering dayspring. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, the resurrected Christ is transforming each of us, erratically but surely, into his very image, “from glory to glory.”
As offspring of dour Scots, we insist that they aren’t nor ever were that dour! But our critics, especially those Brits, have looked upon us as inveterate grumps. Well, you would be, too, at least once in a while, if you had to endure cold, rainy weather, don funny plaid clothes (men in skirts?!), listen to soul-piercing bagpipes, and talk with such interesting accents! But we’ve also taught one another that we have to prove ourselves, that we have to earn it — and then, when successful, we’ve scolded one another for exalting ourselves above the rest. Resurrection Sunday makes us all winners, carried to victory not by our striving but by the one who has conquered death itself.
As fans of the Whitfield-Wesley debates, our penchant for theological faithfulness too easily turns pugilistic. Sure, it’s one thing to be testing every truth claim, to be weighing all ideas against the biblical and confessional plumb line, to be challenging one another’s newfangled and old prejudicial ideas. It’s another thing to carry on our own shoulders the sole responsibility to preserve the truth, as if it lives only as we guard it. The resurrection reminds us that the light of God’s truth has overcome the darkness of deception. We need to hear about the capital-T Truth, that Word of God who lives!
As inheritors of the 20th century Presbyterian conflicts, we have taken ecclesiastical schisms to a level unprecedented in church history. We elevate and argue incessantly the importance of our polity, but we blithely subscribe to a half-baked ecclesiology — proudly “Protestant,” relationally dismissive. We forget that Jesus launched a church-building project, praying that we would be one “as” — in the same way and to the equivalent extent — he and his heavenly Abba are one. And in his triumphal rending of the veil, he entrusted to his “body” all that is needful to tear down the partitions that divide.
As early 21st century Presbyterians, few of us can remember the day when our births were outnumbering our deaths, when adult baptisms were outpacing departures. The pattern of diminishing returns has led to an outlook of diminishing expectations. We have forgotten that some seasons of life function like Holy Saturday, that time when our fresh recall of yesterday’s crushing setback — if allowed — can mute from memory the words of promise by the Savior regarding “ … the third day.” We have lost track of his assurance that the gates of hell shall not prevail. We need to hear of a resurrection that waits just around the corner of the dark night of the soul, when we will see yet again the triumphal advance of the kingdom of God.
I’m uncomfortable admitting a greater than normal need for the resurrection hope. We in the Reformed tradition have expounded at length on the power of sanctification — the larger part of Calvin’s Institutes speaks of it. We have proclaimed that the new life comes not by works but by grace. We have declared that the Word of God is alive. We have strengthened the church by ordaining members (ruling elders) to serve alongside pastors (teaching elders). We’ve made the proclamation of grace the very shape of our liturgy.
But we’ve been thwarted by our own bad memories.
Perhaps we need to proclaim the resurrection not just on Easter, but every week, on the very first morning of the first day of every week the whole year round. Oh, yeah. That’s why we call it the Lord’s Day, isn’t it?