In “Christ is Risen”, Matt Maher encapsulates the message offered by so many celebrants at Easter:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling over death by death!
Come awake! Come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!
Oh, death, where is your sting?
Oh, Hell, where is your victory?
It is a message of conquest.
But those that have survived a near-death experience tell us that as they drifted into the light, they saw all their loved ones reaching out to call them forward, and behind them shone the loving embrace of Christ.
Jesus did not conquer death: he entered into our greatest fear and transformed it into a conduit through which love is brought to us.
Understanding that conflict justifies evil, I have been negotiating with sin for the last fifteen years, offering the exhortation that love will not destroy it, but bring it into greatness. In that process, I have been assaulted psychologically, night and day, by people that exercise sin to gain power over others. The struggle has been exhausting.
This morning, I find myself in a different place. I turned the problem around: rather than resisting them, I envisioned the light of Christ shining through me, then through them and onto those that they oppress. The closer they press against me, the closer they come to the light, and the more brightly it shines from them.
Maher begins his song with this exhortation:
Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame.
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love.
Those that rely upon sin for power run in the other direction, of course, and build their castles to wall out the light of Christ. Death is their final tool – the means by which they weed out those that insist upon loving. Every Christian that keeps his eyes upon the cross defeats that strategy: they make death the means by which Christ enters into the darkness, bypassing all the walls of the citadel.
How does Christ protect his faithful? Because even thinking about bringing harm to a true servant of Christ calls him closer. Those that would sin against the faithful must flee their ramparts into the wilderness.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus offered this counsel:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
[NIV Matt. 5:38-39]
And for those strong enough, even more:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of heaven.
[NIV Matt. 5:43-45]
What I see now is: it is the miracle of the cross that guarantees the efficacy of this conduct! Death was not vanquished, it is the very tool by which we redeem one another!