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Bishop Cate’s Easter Message

posted April 18, 2019

Written by The Rt. Rev. Cate Waynick

“Bishop Cate, do you really believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus?” Depending on my answer, my interrogator will decide that I’m either too gullible to be taken seriously, or I’m not really faithful. 

My response requires a running start; I believe in the Incarnation. I believe that the God who created everything that is, and holds us all in being, did a completely new thing. God, whom we describe as a triune community of Being and love, decided that one of its own would lay aside the prerogatives of divinity and live a human life. This fully human person, born of our sister Mary, would not only experience human life, but become vulnerable to all that can be most brutal and dangerous about it.

Jesus experienced good things, but he also experienced indifference, rejection, anger, disbelief, and denunciation. Even so, he proclaimed the reign of God. He described a realm characterized by kindness, healing, generosity, forgiveness, and the willingness to leave judgment to God. He declared this realm already present among us and within us, providing the ability to shape the world around us just as yeast can shape a lump of dough. Asked repeatedly about faithful life, about the greatest of all the commandments, his response was consistent: “Love God above all with everything that is in you, and love neighbor as self.”

And when challenged about who qualifies as ‘neighbor’ Jesus made it clear there is no one we can leave off the list.

And when challenged about who qualifies as ‘neighbor’ Jesus made it clear there is no one we can leave off the list.

Sharing a last meal with his followers, he expanded the meaning of the bread they shared and the wine they drank. All of them – even the betrayer – were included in a new covenant. He washed their feet, admonishing them to follow his example of servanthood. And then he upped the ante on what it means to love.

“I give you a new commandment. You must love one another as I have loved you.” The Greek word in the text of John’s Gospel is ‘agape.’ This is the eternal, creative, forgiving, healing, restoring, transforming, sacrificial, love of God. This is the love that pursued humanity through the ages, pleading that we love God and each other. And when we simply refused, agape motivated and made possible the Incarnation.

When humanity had rejected the gift of God’s own self, and nailed Jesus to the cross, and buried him out of sight, this love refused to let our sin and hatred have the last word. God’s response to the world’s cruel rejection of Jesus was the Resurrection. In the Resurrection of Jesus, God tells humanity, ‘what you have done is not bad enough to make me stop loving you!’

The love Jesus commands of us is intended to bring us joy. All of us. Every single one of us.

The love Jesus commands of us is intended to bring us joy. All of us. Every single one of us.

The love which cannot be nullified by human sin, which refuses to let fear and greedy violence have the last word, can bring us lasting peace and joy.

But all we have to do is look at human history to identify times when one group has decided that another group is not worthy. Not worthy of love, not worthy of respect, or dignity, or justice, or mercy – or even life. Those others – they are in our way, they seem to threaten us, they possess something we desire to have, they don’t look like us, share our language, our beliefs, our values. We have done cruel, death-dealing things to ‘others’ seeking to justify fear and hatred, desiring triumph over those we have defined as enemies. And never, in all of history, has that kind of victory led to lasting peace and joy.

Let me be clear. I am NOT being political. I am talking about the difference between the Good News that we can love others as God loves us, as over against a love of power. It’s a difference worth pondering, because gaining power has never yet led to lasting peace and joy.

In all of human history we find records of children being abducted from their families and indoctrinated into rejection of their birthright, their beliefs, and their values. We find records of one people subjugating and enslaving another – of the buying and selling of human beings as commodities, and removing them from sight and mind in the most cruel and terrifying ways. And these efforts have never yet led to lasting peace and joy.

Every so often we do see behavior which moves and inspires us; generous, life-affirming acts which it would be hard to attribute to anything but love. We see them when a person or group is willing to advocate for others, or give way to others, or to spend their wealth and energy for the benefit of others, or even to die for others. We see acts which take both inner courage and generosity of spirit. Sometimes, in our gratitude, we wish these things happened more often.

I have sometimes groused about the secular appropriation of Christmas – the decorations going up before Halloween is upon us, with the Muzak, the ringing of bells, and hearing about the ‘spirit of the season.’ The cynical side of me thinks we are being manipulated by merchants, who want nothing so much as for us to mistake abundant spending for abundant life. But another side of me would like to think that we cooperate with this highjacking of Christmas, because we really do want to be loving and generous. We really do want the world to be a kinder, gentler place – a place of lasting peace and joy.

So here’s what I propose: if believing that God’s love is powerful enough to raise Jesus bodily from the dead will help you believe God can be just as powerful in your life, why not give it a try? Why not pray, as fervently as you know how, to be enabled to love others in a way that will transform you?

So here’s what I propose: if believing that God’s love is powerful enough to raise Jesus bodily from the dead will help you believe God can be just as powerful in your life, why not give it a try?

Becoming open to the powerful love that resurrected Jesus will change us. And when we become different, the world around us will begin to change. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it will happen overnight. And it’s something we have to want and decide to do, because God has created us with the freedom to make choices – and love cannot be coerced. It can only be chosen and shared.

For a life filled with lasting peace and joy, it’s worth a try.