I am writing these Notes from Caroline’s childhood home in Chattanooga, where we are visiting for a few days. As I think about Eastertide and the Resurrection, I remember a powerful theological lesson related to the Resurrection that I learned on a trip to Chattanooga. It was in the spring of 1975, and we were driving up to Chattanooga from Atlanta to visit her parents. We had just accepted a call to be co-pastors of St. Columba Presbyterian Church in Norfolk. In so doing we would be the first clergy couple to serve in a local church in the former southern Presbyterian Church. Caroline was already ordained as a pastor, but I was just finishing seminary, so I had not been ordained. On that trip to Chattanooga I was preparing for my examination for ordination by Norfolk Presbytery.
As we were traveling, I remember asking her about the doctrine of the Resurrection. I asked her: “What do you think that the meaning of the Resurrection is? I’m having trouble figuring that one out.” At that point, I wasn’t sure if I believed in life after death, and if I didn’t accept that, what could I say about the Resurrection during my examination?
Caroline answered: “I don’t know what it means for life after death. I’ll leave that one up to God. But I see the Resurrection as a way of understanding our lives now. It has more to do with our lives than with our deaths. In the Resurrection, God is calling us into new life now, in this life. We are asked to see our lives in a new light, in the light of the Resurrection.” Her answer changed the way I looked at the Resurrection and at faith itself. Rather than faith being a process that got me into heaven when I died, faith became a process where I was called into living in the presence of God now. In terms of the Resurrection, its power is what those first men and women disciples experienced: it changed the way that they lived their lives! Her experienced: it changed the way that they lived their lives! Just as God rolled away the stone from the tomb of Jesus on that first Easter morning, so God continues to roll away the stone from the tomb of our hearts so that we too may be released from the power of death.
As we reflect on the meaning of the Easter story, this is a good place to start. The power of Easter is not what happens to us after we die, but rather what happens to us while we are living. Just like those first women who came to the tomb looking for a dead body, we too go through much of our lives believing in the power of death. In Luke’s account of the Resurrection in chapter 24, when the women disciples run to tell the men that Jesus is risen, the men disciples dismiss their testimony as fantasy, an unrealistic non-sense. In this Easter season, we so much want to be like the women, but we are most often more like the men.Where are our hearts and imaginations captured by death? In this year when the presidential campaign looks so scary, and the world seems so fragile, let us remember this little group of men and women whose witness shook the Roman empire to its core.
Let us examine our own captivity – where have we come to believe that weapons bring security, that war brings peace? Where have we come to believe that violence is redemptive, that money brings life, that racial classification is a necessary evil? The doctrine of the Resurrection reminds us that the risen Jesus is out ahead of us, calling us to come out of the tombs of death, so that we too can experience that power of new life. That is the meaning of the Resurrection – and oh yes, I passed my ordination exam in Norfolk Presbytery – thank you, Caroline!