Moving forward with respect, compassion and love

Easter Message

By Rev. Chris Brown

Bethania Lutheran Church

I’ve been watching the news a lot over the last couple weeks, engrossed yet again in the coverage of our country’s latest mass shooting, in which 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School died. If watching coverage of the shooting wasn’t enough, I’ve also (foolishly) engaged in social media debates about gun violence in our country.

For me, it’s the same as last time – the same arguments, the same points, the same anger and tribalism. I’m somewhat overcome with the feeling that our country is heading to a bad place with a dark ending.

And then I think of Lent and I think of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. I think about how his disciples were embroiled with their own agendas. This was the Messiah they were following and he was going to restore the Kingdom of God to Israel. He was going to drive out the Romans and take up his rightful place as king, and the disciples were going to be at his right hand with status and power.

And while they were heading to Jerusalem with Jesus and entertaining their own fantasies of grandeur, Jesus knew he was heading to the cross. Jesus knew he was heading to a bad place with a dark ending.

As I watch the news and see the same old arguments, anger and tribalism (which I think not coincidently has some influence in the violence we see), I want to cry. My heart is so heavy with sadness that I can feel it in the pit of my chest, banging to come out. I think this is what Jesus must have been feeling as he was walking toward Jerusalem – to a bad place with a dark ending.

Yet the truth of the Easter story is that while Jesus, being accompanied by his disciples, was walking to an ending, a destination, a goal, he was walking his disciples to a beginning. For Jesus, Jerusalem was where it ended, but for the disciples, Jerusalem was where it would begin.

You see, as people we are oriented to end points, destinations and goals. We’ve taken this as Christians and turned heaven into a place we go after life. Some Christians have envisioned an endpoint to this entire world that culminates in Jerusalem. And with recent events in our country, it seems like we might be getting close to that time. Except that Jerusalem was an ending for Jesus, but for all of us it’s a beginning.

We may not be aware, but faith is not about an ending, a goal, or a destination. It is about the experience. Faith is about recognizing the moments that feel like we are heading to a bad place, or a dark ending, and realizing those moments might be our Jerusalem — when we’re being led not to an ending, but to a beginning. That is the story of Easter.

As I’ve watched the news over this last shooting and as I’ve been overcome with sadness and exhaustion and an impending feeling of no resolve, something different was happening this time around. Students from Stoneman Douglas High were holding rallies, giving speeches, taking to social media to share their stories and their resolve that something needs to be done in response to the perpetual mass shootings our country faces. They organized walkouts, drove to their state capital, met with the president and have hit the ground running.

When much of our country has felt like this was taking us to a bad place with a dark ending, these kids reminded us that these heart-wrenching moments do not have to suck the Spirit from us, but rather can feed the Spirit within us and move us forward to creating spaces of respect, empathy, compassion, love and peace. Not an ending, but a beginning. That is the story of Easter.