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March 20, 2008

Resurrection Day 2008: Real Audacity

The first Easter was no holiday for those centrally involved in its events. Instead, the circumstances were a source of puzzlement and trial. The Romans were about their perfunctory business of cruelly oppressing the peoples they had conquered. Members of the priestly hierarchy of the Jews were ridding themselves of a threat that could disrupt their fragile truce with the Romans. High Priest Caiaphas was proclaiming, “It is expedient that one man should die for the people.”

Moreover, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, fearing for their lives in the absence of their leader, were disbanding in the aftermath of a troubling Passover feast.

The conversations of the disciples on the road to Emmaus with a travel companion they did not recognize reflect the mood of those days, a time when the people served as their own chroniclers of the news. Cleophas described events surrounding the Crucifixion of Jesus, saying, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have you not known the things which happened there in these days?… The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.” (Luke 24:18-24)

Those days were not so different from ours. Today, as we prepare to elect a new leader for our nation, we often mistake political action for true spirituality.

Our national political conversations are now addressing claims of “audacity” and what might be expected of a transcendent, revitalized unity of shared purpose in our country. However, relying on government as the pre-eminent earthly power to fix all worldly ills reveals a profound misunderstanding of what audacity really is.

Audacity is defined as “intrepid daring,” “originality,” “verve,” “reckless boldness,” “contempt of law, religion or decorum,” “bold or arrogant disregard of normal restraints,” and treated as synonymous with “temerity” as opposed to circumspection. All of these definitions of the word convey a challenge to existing authorities, not a submission to them or a parroting of their prejudices. But placing so much faith in politics and government is to obey conventional wisdom and existing elite powers, not to overturn them.

In contrast, consider the real audacity of Jesus through the Crucifixion and Resurrection—the empty cross, followed by the empty tomb. Consider the boldness of the belief that this Jesus was Lord and Creator of the universe because He was master of its material rules, that this Jesus was also the long awaited Messiah spoken of by the prophets.

The misunderstandings Christ overturned were about recognizing the spiritual realm as supreme over the physical world. This was about subordinating human will to God’s will.

When Jesus confronted Pilate, however, He offered no challenge to the representative of Roman imperial government. This was, in fact, speaking truth to power. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus explained. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)

Yet, a ragtag band of disciples, those who had fled when the Romans crucified Jesus, so extended their outreach that in a little less than 300 years, the “People of the Way” overcame history’s greatest empire, armed only with the power of the Resurrection story and the might of the Holy Spirit.

Christians hold that the only power that could have transformed those timid disciples into fearless martyrs capable of the peaceful conquest of the most powerful government in the world was Jesus, the foretold Messiah, who rose from the dead. The evidence demonstrating the Resurrection is as compelling as any historical record can be. Eyewitnesses saw the Risen Christ Jesus, touched Him and ate meals with Him. Five independent accounts from the Bible affirm the Resurrection. And then there were the empty grave clothes, the broken Roman seal, the large stone moved and the Roman guards who fled the empty tomb under penalty of death.

What can we say, then, of our not having even now learned the lessons of Easter and of our continuing confusion over the proper priorities in our spiritual and material lives?

For those of us who are Christians, the answer is to recognize the transcendence of the Resurrection, pointing us back toward the empty tomb. None of the powers of government could hold back the Risen Lord, or His work in the lives of individuals who freely embraced his eternal supremacy. That’s real audacity.

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