Resurrection Day 2004: Choose Life!
"I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live...." --Deuteronomy 30:19
We approach this Resurrection Sunday, 2004, in the midst of turmoil and strife. This Holy Week, the conflict across the Straits has grown more perilous between free Taiwan and Communist China. North Korea and Iran continue on the path to amassing threatening arsenals of weapons with a long and fatal reach. In our global war with Jihadi terrorists, the Iraqi battlegrounds of Fallujah and Ramadi have erupted into deadly violence against our military forces, sparked by a murderous confluence of Iranian-backed Shi'ites, Saddam-worshiping Ba'athists, and al-Qa'ida-linked irregulars. In our domestic "culture wars," severe disagreements over the primacy or subordination of religious liberty to factional interests are calling into question whether the free exercise of faith can survive in our nation. And finally, closer to home, we here at The Federalist were dealt a terrible blow this past weekend with the sudden deaths of one of our stalwart Patriots and two members of his family.
Indeed, these days are nearly as unsettling and unsettled as those when Jesus, the protagonist of Easter, lived and met death, and then rose again.
Scholars variously attribute the name "Easter" to derivation from Eostra (a Scandinavian goddess of dawn or spring) or Ostern (a Teutonic fertility goddess), both pagan figures honored at festivals celebrating the vernal equinox. Eostra is one of many similar names of Euro-Mediterranean pagan goddesses, with the form Ishtar most often associated with the region around the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia. Traditions associated with these festivals include the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and Easter eggs, painted with the bright colors of spring, signifying growth and new life. The Christian holiday builds on the traditions of the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach (the derivation of Pascha, another name for Easter), celebrating deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.
Pope Victor I (c. 189 - 198) standardized Easter to a Sunday holiday, and in 325 the Council of Nicaea set Easter's date in relation to the paschal moon. The Gregorian calendar correction of 1582 placed Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox, falling between March 22 and April 25.
Easter, arriving at the turn of winter to spring, echoes the natural world's transformation from symbols of death to signs and stirrings of birth -- and rebirth. We Christians memorialize the crucifixion of Jesus Christ each Good Friday, and His resurrection on Easter morning. This week, Passover begins on the Monday evening preceding Easter Sunday; that first Easter, Jesus had traveled with His followers to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. While praying in Gethsemane after dinner, Jesus was seized and taken before Caiphas, the Jewish high priest, then condemned as a blasphemer. Jerusalem at the time was a hotbed of trouble and contentiousness, with Roman rule resting uneasily over the secular and religious leadership in Israel, and staunching any ferment for insurrection and rebellion.
That unrest explains, in part, how the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, came to order Jesus' execution, despite acknowledging His innocence. In one sense, Jesus' being put to death on the cross was the greatest injustice ever. Interviewing Jesus to ascertain criminal guilt after the Temple hierarchs handed Him over, Pilate turned from asking, "What is truth?" to saying, "I find no crime in this man." (Luke 23:4; RSV). Upon learning that Jesus was a Galilean and therefore under Herod's jurisdiction as king of Israel, Pilate transferred the case. However, also finding no fault in Jesus, Herod sent Him back and Pilate then stated, "Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him."
In another sense, though, the Easter events serve the cause of divine justice, as Jesus Christ crucified, in references to Passover, is likened to the spotless sacrificial lamb: "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet he opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, He opened not His mouth." (Isaiah 53: 7); and "[Y]ou were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1: 18-19)
How far Jesus had traveled from the Christ Child born in Bethlehem's manger among lambs and cattle, to become the Lamb slain to atone for the sins of the world! But as Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17) Surely, Christmas realized His promise, as Easter revealed His purpose.
As Jesus explained, in truth no one put Him to death, for He freely chose to sacrifice His life: "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father." (John 10:17-18)
The Resurrection is the central fact that distinguishes Christianity from all other faiths. Only Christianity claims that its founder was more than a representative for God, but God Himself. Only God could raise Himself from the dead, and only God could have standing to ransom us from our sin-indebtedness, through a substitutionary sacrifice. With the cry of Jesus from the cross, "It is finished," our redemption was complete. Our Risen Lord returned, resurrected, to prove that His sacrifice was not in vain, and only the truth of the Resurrection can account for the lives of those who followed Jesus.
The other essential message of Easter is the invaluable worth of every human life, however broken and sin-riddled. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was the fusion of perfect love and perfect justice, a battle to vanquish evil forever, in this sense: Because we owe God complete obedience, we have no means to make restitution for our sins. Doing what we ought to do in any instance merely zeroes our balance for that accounting entry; we have no coin or currency that will repay the negative sum of our accumulated sins. Thus, only God Himself could rectify that debt on our behalf, in a sacrificial act that is simultaneously purely loving and purely just.
Paradoxically, the death of Jesus translates into life eternally for all who accept his sacrifice as restitution for their sins. Jesus chose to suffer a terrible death on the cross -- the only adequate restitution for our wrongs -- so that we could choose life, rather than remain indebted to sin and enmeshed in death.
Accepting this explanation also involves choice and has ever been thus. As the apostle Paul recounted, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ...For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-24)
In this way the cross is thus central to faithful Christianity; heretofore an image of fearful execution, the cross became a sign of life: "But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14)
How is Easter related to the predicament of current events? In this: Our Founding Fathers, in large part, were Christians or steeped in a political philosophy rooted in the Christian view of human nature. They believed, as The Federalist seeks to echo, that each individual human is a morally choosing being, and that the only governments capable of enduring long are crafted around honoring that moral human nature by ensuring liberty.
We believe the strengths and successes of our nation have grown out of dedication to principles rooted in this view of human worth -- from the Easter message, if you will. Our collective failures have grown from its neglect. We further believe that our nation is admired and emulated across the globe, and sometimes envied and despised, because these principles ring true ... indeed, because they are true.
Our troops are mirroring the sacrifice of Jesus, in risking -- and even laying down -- their lives for the sake of our freedoms. In our conflict with Jihadistan, on the Iraqi war front and elsewhere, we pit lives dedicated to rescue and sacrifice against lives squandered to commit murder. This illustrates the source of the Jihadis' hostility toward us -- that their hatred is for those Founding principles still guiding the lives of Americans. But we are still at war, rescuing precious Iraqi lives, protecting the lives of our countrymen, and preserving our nation's liberties. We believe the precariousness of our national security parallels our nation's tilt away from acknowledging the Original Founder of our freedom.
We pray this Easter that our adversaries -- and those of our countrymen who have wandered astray -- will choose life through the Source of all that is good and right -- the Risen Lord.
On behalf of our National Advisory Committee and staff, thank you and God bless you and your family!
Lex et Libertas -- Semper Vigilo, Paratus, et Fidelis! Mark Alexander
DEDICATION: Samuel Adams once said of Patriots, "It does not take a majority to prevail ... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men." Without question, our National Advisory Committee, our Editorial Staff and you, our Patriot readers, are members of that "tireless minority." This past week, Rock Thomas (a Christian and Patriot who had served on The Federalist's NAC since 1998), his wife Kathy and their 9-year old son Morgan were killed when another vehicle (impaired driving charges pending) collided head-on with theirs. It is thus with profound sadness that we dedicate this Easter edition to their loving memory. In addition, we would ask for your prayers for Rock and Kathy's two surviving sons, Logan and David -- that they might fully recover from their injuries, and that they might mature to lead lives which honor the memory of their dearly departed parents and sibling.