Power and Character – Easter 2018 (Matthew 28:1-9)
We drove to Georgia last weekend to see our younger son Sam and his wife Kelsea. We stayed at his apartment instead of getting a room at a local hotel. I never knew that staying at your adult child’s home could be so thoroughly enjoyable. I sprawled on the couch and commandeered the remote control and ate what I wanted out of their refrigerator without asking, doing to Sam for two days what had been done to us for eighteen years. And he was so gracious about it. When we left to come home on Monday morning, he seemed genuinely sad to see us go and even said he loved us.
Driving home, we went past the Ark Encounter south of Cincinnati, an exact, full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark as described in the book of Genesis. It was launched with huge crowds when it first opened, then began rowing against the current, the crowds fell away, so the owners of the Ark Encounter have expanded their offerings by adding zip lines, which aren’t mentioned in the book of Genesis. I checked just to be sure. Not a word about them. It’s a bit discouraging when even the fundamentalists are playing fast and loose with Scripture.
Though I understand the temptation. After all, the Bible was written in a pre-scientific time, when people were woefully uninformed about zip lines and other such advances.
This is why, when we read the Bible, we have to re-interpret it in light of modernity, which I find myself doing especially at the Easter season. Reading the Bible not so much literally, but metaphorically, symbolically, allegorically. This is how the original writers intended it to be read anyway, when they first created the stories that were eventually collected together and called the Bible, from the Latin word biblia or books.
So we have these books, these stories, and we must read them in light of our discoveries, because we can’t ignore or unforget other truths we have learned. This is why I no longer read the crucifixion and resurrection stories as historical fact, but as revelations of character.
Bear with me a moment while I explain this: The crucifixion and resurrection are stories about power and character. The crucifixion tells us that Caesar used his power to kill and destroy. We all know people like Caesar. Give them power and the next thing you know they’re using it to knock down others and build themselves up. They don’t care who they hurt, who they malign, who they wound. They care only about their own power, their own prestige, their own position. If you cross them, if you question them, if you challenge them, watch out. They will use their power to destroy you. They are Caesars, and they will crucify you, then move on to someone else they can cut down. Do you know anyone like that? Our job in life is twofold: To not be a Caesar, and to, with every fiber of our moral being, stand against Caesar.
So the crucifixion tells us everything we need to know about the Caesars, that they will use their power to kill and destroy.
Now if God were like Caesar, God would use divine power to kill and destroy Caesars. Some of the writers of the Bible believed God did just that. Indeed, they prayed for God to do just that, to use divine power to destroy the Caesars. I understand why they prayed that, I understand the very human desire for God to blot out human evil decisively and thoroughly, but I see no evidence that God does that for us. Rather, God calls us to live in the power of redemptive love until the Caesars of the world are both transcended and transformed. So evil is rendered powerless not for us, but by us, through the power of redemptive love. This is the great moral and spiritual teaching of Jesus.
Which brings us to the resurrection. Just as the crucifixion told us something about Caesar, the resurrection tells us something about God. If Caesar would use his power to put down, to diminish, to kill and destroy, God would use divine power to heal, to restore, to give life. The crucifixion told us everything we needed to know about Caesar’s character. The resurrection tells us everything we need to know about God’s character.
So we are faced with a choice. Will we be children of Caesar or children of God? Will we use our power for evil or for good?
I must tell you, I’ve been greatly inspired by the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who are using their moral power for good. Think about these young people. They had no power, no aspirations of power, no plotting for power, but through evil circumstances have been given a pulpit and a voice, which they are using in the cause of good. They are determined to bring peace from the ravages of violence and I applaud them. They are God’s children, using their power for good.
The Caesars of the world have condemned them. These Caesars, having sought power all their lives, having moved hell and high water to accumulate as much power as they are able, having paid good money for power, are now angered that circumstances have granted these young people the power they now have, so are using their power to condemn and destroy. They are Caesar’s children, using their power for ill.
It’s the same old story. Caesar is crucifying, God is resurrecting.
Now it is up to you and me to render Caesar powerless, through the power of redemptive love. We must love Caesar’s children until they are transcended and transformed. First, transcended. We must not let them get us down. Second, transformed. We must not leave them as they are. Caesar is an unfit parent. We must take them from Caesar and give them to God. And that is Easter. God undoing the work of Caesar, and calling us to do the same.