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He is Alive! ©

No more singular proclamation rings out over the Sunday (Son’s Day!) we call Easter than the claim, “He is alive!” The challenge of the Angel messenger greets us as we flee the cemeteries of our day. “Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised” (Luke 24:4-6). I am reminded of what Raniero Cantalamessa, a well-known Catholic theologian and Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980, under Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, one said. “Everything that exists and moves in the church - the sacraments, doctrine, institution - draws its strength from Christ’s resurrection.” The Apostle Paul put it even more bluntly. “If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless. . . If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 19). We Christians are fundamentally an Easter people. This great doctrine deserves far more than one set aside day in our preaching. It should be at the center of our proclaim. Interestingly enough, we often apply the doctrine of the resurrection simply to individuals and usually to the physical death of an individual. In the New Testament it has a far more central place in Christian thought. In the resurrection we dare to believe that both sin and death have been defeated. Check out the emphatic language of 1 Corinthians 15: Death has been swallowed up by a victory. Where is your victory, Death?         Where is your sting, Death? (Death’s sting is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.) Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:54b- 58) Indeed, the concept of resurrection applies to the church itself, as the body of Christ. On our trip to Rome last fall, one of the first stops we made was to the catacombs. As we went downward into the honeycomb ancient Christian burial site, we stopped first at a church buried there. Think about it for a moment. The earliest Christians chose to worship in a graveyard. To be sure, much of this was because of persecution. But I think there was still more involved in worship at an underground burial site. There was (and is) a statement of conviction. Like the women of old who first came to the tomb that Easter morning, we all have walked (or will walk) a cemetery road in honor of a loved one. So too churches can walk the cemetery road. In the providence of God we too will behold the glory of Christ through Holy Spirit’s empowerment. This is the hope and joy of this day and this season. The risen Christ is going on before us! Arborlawn United Methodist Church is hosting Nadia Bolz-Weber author of Accidental Saints this coming May. I confess that I don’t know that much about her and haven’t read any of her books. What caught my eye was the title of her upcoming Arborlawn address – “Stop Saying the Church is Dying.” One the one hand, she is absolutely right! The Church isn’t dying! “The church is of God and will be preserved until the end of time.”  The Church of Jesus Christ survived and even flourished in the time of Roman persecution, the scourge of Nazi Germany and the “Red Chinese cultural revolution.” (Did you know that if trends continue by 2050, probably earlier, China will be the nation with the most Christians in its population on the planet?) On the other hand, painful truth calls forth a confession. Institutional Christianity in America as we now know it clearly is dying. This may in fact even be a good thing. You see, we are a people of the resurrection. We are a part of the “reformation” heritage. The great convictions of Methodists was and is “To reform the nation, particularly the church, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land” (“Minutes of Several Conversations” Q.3, in The Works of John Wesley [vol. 8; ed. T. Jackson; Baker, 1978] 299). A resurrection church is being formed, and we are privileged to be a part of it! This the work of a resurrecting Christ! Consider the following story. The Jonesboro church was down to 1 active member and an average worship of 4. But it was not dead. The risen Christ through the Holy Spirit was at work through Pastor Rita Hotz and the handful of believers who are a part of the Jonesboro Parish (Jonesboro, Bethel, and Lanham). In faith (trusting allegiance and obedience to Christ as a Risen and active Savior) they launched a new faith community with the help of the Central Texas Conference Center for Evangelism and Church Growth. Two weeks before Easter they had 24 present including 8 adults and 14 children & youth. It is an Easter experience. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised” (Luke 24:4-6). May you know the joy of Christ’s rising in your life.