Robust Easter faith gets political
If Jesus, the risen Christ, is not lord over all of life, he is not Lord at all. Early Christians who bet their lives on Christ’s resurrection said their lord took charge of life. Remember when you began a new job. Misgivings pester us. Can we pull it off? On the onset, we might say to ourselves, “I can’t do this.” Unlike us, the resurrected Christ didn’t second-guess his omnipotent authority in the universe. Roman Caesars who assumed they were in charge of the world offered to cut a deal with Christians. Leave politics to the Roman lords. Wedge Christ into religious crevices. Confine his rule to what’s spiritual. Christians animated with robust faith didn’t agree to this deal. They joined voices with a celestial chorus that an apocalyptic writer surmised he heard singing, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever,” Revelation 11:15.Because Christ directed them, Christians only provisionally obeyed the Caesars. With Christ as king ruling the universe, Christians didn’t buckle under to primary loyalty the Caesars demanded. The Roman Empire flourished, as Virgil described it, when its prestige and power was imperium sine fine, “the empire that will never end.” Caesars tried booting Christians out of politics. Let Christ’s followers stick to the sacred, not secular, realm of insipid, incense-filled worship services that never challenged Caesar.Christians testified how Christ’s rule trumped Caesar’s authority. They protested, hid underground and formed clandestine cells of freedom fighters who worshipped the resurrected Christ in catacombs.They bowed before Christ but not to Caesar. Practicing political activism, they stiffed the Roman emperor. Franklin Delano Roosevelt caught their spirit, remembering the genius of our republic grows through citizens who protest wrongs. “The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty,” FDR said, “is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.” Easter stands for more than syrupy, pretty platitudes about personal renewal sprouting like tulips after winter’s deathly grip. Easter embraces more than a promise that death is not a final chapter in life’s book. Christ as author pens an eternal script for our lives. Easter affords more than proofs that Jesus escaped an empty tomb. Easter sounds like trumpets in the morning. Christ is lord over life. Caesar and Holy Communion – what’s secular and sacred – are under his aegis, including politics. So when Christians protest the war in Iraq, they are exercising their Easter faith. They’re making clear that when our nation goes to war without sufficient cause, lacks sufficient planning after military conquest and repeats too many troop rotations with insufficient armored vehicles to protect our soldiers from roadside bombs, then it’s time to protest. And Christians protest because Christ their lord who guides us doesn’t sanction wars that make life messier and more catastrophic. Christians take on Caesar.Professor Robert McAfee Brown, once teacher of theology at Manhattan’s Union Theological Seminary and later at Stanford University, used his Easter faith to protest the Vietnam War. He warned in “The Pseudonyms of God” our major fault “is not atheism but polytheism, that is to say, not that there is no God but that there are too many gods.” Few Americans deny belief in a higher power. What we do when we fear is bow down to lesser deities. We magnify the military, assume our national policy is right and condemn anything less than jingoism as cowardice. Such patriotism acts as gods who wrongly guide us.”It is not unpatriotic to be critical of one’s country,” Brown said. “This is rather the true and proper kind of patriotism. It does not undermine democracy to call attention to places where it needs to be improved; this is the only way to strengthen it. For the lifeblood of a true democracy lies in the right of dissent, the privilege of the public forum, the inherent correctness of questions to those holding power. If these things are denied, then in principle the totalitarian mentality has already conquered.”Our republic will not achieve an honorable greatness if we lamely stumble in lockstep with militaristic strategies in Iraq that are not working. More of the same will not produce different results. It aggravates sectarian tensions among religious factions instead of bridging the deep divide, so civil war escalates.When Christians worship on Easter Day, they sing, pray and recite what the scriptures declare: Jesus, the Christ, arose and reigns as lord of the universe.Their creed in the Greek language is “Kurios Christos” (“Christ is Lord”). Christians dared make this claim when the Romans required them to annually recite “Kurios Caesar” (“Caesar, the state, is lord”). The state demanded their ultimate allegiance. The affirmation “Kurios Christos” is more than merely a religion confession. It proclaims a political verdict. Because “Christ is Lord,” declared Christians, “Caesar, representing the state, is not lord.” Christians armed with a robust faith attacked Caesar’s bungling empire because loyalty to Christ, higher than what the state expected, impelled them. They put a new twist on an ancient belief Jewish forbears had articulated when God spoke to them at Mount Sinai, “You shall have not other gods before me.” Christians cut and ran from Caesar because their risen Christ lorded over all prelates and potentates. Why? Because Christ the Lord is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed!The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.