“ … and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:14
I love what our congregations, members and clergy do in ministry. They are world changers. Without the ministry that happens in and through PC(USA) congregations, the places where we live, move and have our being would be diminished greatly, almost unimaginably: Many single, elderly people would die alone, personal talents in music and the arts would not be nurtured, social justice movements would be deprived of crucial partners/leaders, programs ranging from day care to homeless feeding efforts would struggle to find space to do their work and, most importantly, a message of Good News would disappear from a society inundated with bad news.
However, as important as our work is for the world, what we believe transcends what we do. Our faith trumps our works. We believe God, not the Pharaohs or Pontius Pilates of history, has the final say in history. That astounding Word is why the work of the church will not only continue, but thrive.
Like Paul, I am convinced that if our preaching and practice of ministry does not have the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ at its center, our work will be, at a minimum, diminished, at worse, in vain. Why is the resurrection so crucial? It is not only because there is life after our own personal death, as wonderful as that Good News is. We preach the resurrection because marchers in Selma needed to know that life and liberty, not the vicious billy clubs of local police, would be victorious. A family recovering from the shock of a daughter’s suicide can be reassured that there is life after death for them as a family. As we work to end the need for the world’s 50 largest refugee camps (all but five of which are in Africa and the Indian subcontinent), we are confident that life and liberty will triumph over current injustices.
In 40 years of social justice work, I have always been impressed by the non-Christians with whom I have worked shoulder-to-shoulder. I am in awe of their ability to work for justice without a central symbol, such as the resurrection of Jesus, that verifies the triumph of good over evil, life over death. These allies in the struggle for justice are simply stronger than me. I need Jesus’ resurrection to reassure me that my work is not in vain, that even if I die before the triumph of some particular form of justice, others will live to see it. The darkness cannot and will not overcome the light.
It is my hope that the prophets of doom regarding the future of our PC(USA) congregations and the continuing presence of full-time clergy will look to the resurrection and have their despair replaced by optimism. God is not done with traditional PC(USA) congregations or the full-time clergy model for parish ministry. It is my prayer that those who think the world is worse off today than it was 100 years ago will see the resurrecting power of Jesus at work in the empowered roles of the LGBT community, women and African Americans and see God’s hand at work in the progress of entire continents such as Africa where a middle class is growing rapidly.
To me, our Easter faith is empowering in a way nothing else can match. Difficulties do not mean defeat. Obstacles are to be moved, not dwelled upon. We are simultaneously a people of the Cross who, like Mary, stand with those who are being crucified and a people of the Empty Tomb who proclaim and know that life, not death, is victorious in the end.
It has been my privilege to serve as the interim consulting editor for the past four months. With excitement, I look forward to the leadership Jill Duffield will give the Outlook. It is time for a younger generation’s voice to lead the publication and way, way past time for a woman to be our editor. I am so grateful to her for accepting the call.
Yours in Christ,