Summary: The Christian is called to respond to the world's increasing contempt, animosity and persecution not in kind, but in love, as Jesus taught and as Jesus did.
Remembering is a far richer reality for us than it is for the world. Coming together this Good Friday evening to remember Jesus’ act of supreme sacrifice, offered out of intense love for us, is more than just bringing it back to mind: here in the presence of our God, where we encounter the spiritual reality of the eternal, events that are removed from us in time by thousands of years are ‘re -membered’ – the breath of the Spirit enters them, they come to life among us (cf. Ezekiel 37:5, 6). We access them, touch them, draw them into today; we make their power, their grace a very real part of our here and now.
And this ‘re-membering’ is new every time, because every time we are draw it into a world that’s not the same as it was last time. But never before in my lifetime have I felt that I was ‘re-membering’ Jesus’ passion and death into a world that was single-mindedly, fiercely set on re-enacting it. It seems that because the world has no hope it needs to destroy ours. Because it has no truth it must to deny ours. Because it has no God it wants to kill ours - to crucify him and entomb him again, and make sure this time he doesn’t get out.
Well, it’s already started. Abandonment, denial, physical persecution: half of all Europeans have never attended a religious service we’re told. More of the world is hostile toward religion than ever before in modern history, surveys show. In many places Christians are being imprisoned, tortured and put to death for no other reason than that they are Christians.
We have no more control over what the world does than Jesus did. But if we want to live true to the name we claim, it calls for more than just making sure we don’t get swept along by the rising secular tide (cf. Ephesians 4:14). It calls for a living response; but what?
Because Christian values had been woven into the fabric of this country for so long, we’ve become used to accepting the guidance it offered without much critical thought. We can’t do that anymore. Just this morning I read a thoughtful, articulate piece by a noted columnist who was commenting on the deepening polarization between church and anti-church. He asks, “Can these creeds adapt to changed cultural circumstances and renew their appeal?” Did Jesus adapt his teaching when he stood before Herod? or Pilate? or the high priest? or the soldiers who were about to drive nails into his body? This same writer also says, characterizing the energy behind the polarization, “There is no contempt like the contempt of the true believer or the militant skeptic.” His words are truer than they should be. Is contempt truly the appropriate response of a true believer? Do we read anywhere in Scripture that Jesus ever treated anyone with contempt?
When we remember that Jesus is here in our midst as we ponder the question, “what should we do?” the answer becomes inescapably clear. “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 your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:43-45). There’s our response, the response of Jesus: Christians do not return contempt for contempt, but answer contempt with love. That will be unusual, Jesus says. How sad; but how true in this world. So what’s needed is not a change of creed, but a change of heart. We need to remember how to live as Jesus taught us to live in this world, in it but not of it (cf. John 17:15-19).
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). I never thought I would be taking comfort in this particular beatitude, but here we are.
And there’s another dimension for us to remember – and ‘re-member.’ There is one Christ; but there are billions of us Christians, and we’re not scattered strangers. The letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we were reconciled to God in one body through this cross, and it also reminds us how to’ re-member’ and to live as one body, the Church, the body of Christ: “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. One body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; on Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
Living as one, the way Jesus taught us to live, the world will not see a scattered flock, not even just a multitude of nonviolent Christians standing before its upraised fist. It will be face to face with the very face of Jesus Christ crucified, entombed, and risen from the dead – ‘re-membered’ in us. That’s a presence and a spiritual reality that it cannot ignore, it cannot deny, and it cannot destroy.