April 4, 2020
By Elder Rick Lindgren
When I was in the pastorate of the Loveland, Ohio, congregation, Easter became a very stressful time over several years. In additional to work, graduate school and family duties, there were just too many church events for Sherry and I to adequately prepare for in a short amount of time. As a result, I still shy away from involvement during this week. I feel I don’t have much new to say anymore. Some of you may feel the same way.
I also feel tension at this time of year between what I call two “threads” that “weave” through our Christian faith tradition. One thread is about those scriptures and testimonies that tell us how to live a life of love in community with one another, and with the rest of the world. There is not a lot of controversy here; indeed, it appears that the “Universal God” has planted wisdom along this line in many faiths and cultures that do not conflict with our own. Think of the Golden Rule, for instance, which is expressed around the world in many variations.
The second thread consists of all of the events in all of our scriptures and history that we have “canonized” in one form or another. In some of these events, especially around Easter, we have staked our institutional, and often our personal, “You must believe!” level of literal belief.
And yet, I have found in meeting people around the church in many different places, my list of these “must believe” events is very likely different from yours. If we all listed our own on big paper sheets and posted them around our sanctuary for discussion, I suspect that it would not remain “discussion” for very long.
Most of us have “stuck on the shelf” some scriptural accounts of events that we have decided, either intentionally or through neglect, that we just do not need to stake our faith on. I will go out on a limb and state that I have put the story of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still in the sky in that category. Call it “faithful history” or “allegory” or “religious myth,” I don’t need it to be a literal event. It conflicts too much with my understanding of how the universe works, and I don’t lose any sleep over relegating it to that dusty shelf.
If I went farther down that list I might start a fight. My point is that my preference in this season is to celebrate that first thread, the celebration of the “oneness” of our human community in Jesus. In my life, I more often hear the living voice of Jesus telling me how to treat someone else as a child of God (especially when I fail at the task) than warning me to “Believe this or else!”
I have shared with congregation before an experience I had as a young priesthood member, in a retreat with storied Evangelist John Blackstock, a bear of a man and powerful preacher. When one of the young men (it was all men in those days) started pressing him for “answers” on the specifics of events after we die, he dressed us all down, testifying about the difference between “belief” and “faith.” Faith to him was living a good life in Jesus without fear of what comes next or getting stuck on the details. That lesson has stuck for almost 50 years. In retrospect, I suppose that was my “Easter moment,” where I “buried” some old, dragging-me-down notions and looked for “new life.”
What was your Easter moment?