How comfortable are you with change? We live in a world that is changing all the time. What the world around us classes as moral behaviour, wise stewardship, and family values has been dramatically challenged in recent years. The whole global picture is changing. Shanty towns of refugees in Europe, migration like we have never seen it before, growing economies in South America and Asia, shifting political ideologies in the Middle East; all are impacting upon the way we live. This week’s terrorist attacks in Brussels have invaded the lives of many families, now grieving the loss of their precious loved ones: this will be reflected in our prayers, personal and corporate, this weekend. It will also change the way many of us travel in the coming days if not years. It may even affect the way we view others in our community.
As the nation of Belgium respects three days of national mourning, Christians now prepare to celebrate three days that changed world history and have personally transformed our lives. We as the church are believers in the power of the Gospel to change things: “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes,” Romans 1:16. We know that our Lord can turn our lives around; and also has the power to turn around the lives of each person on the planet. And yet we struggle at times to understand the outworking of that power. Like the apostles, the reality of death intimidates our expectation of new life. Like Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome, “trembling and bewildered the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid,” Mark 16:8.
I love Mark’s account of the resurrection in chapter 16, because it is so matter of fact. “Jesus the Nazarene was crucified: Has risen.” It is a stark and clear contrast, a monumental transition that Mark wants to emphasise. He simply invites us, his readers, to put our faith in Jesus. This is all part of Mark’s presentation of faith and discipleship. For the first half of the Gospel, people who see miracles are told not to talk about them: there is a mystery as to who Jesus is. In the second half of the Gospel, we find out why: discipleship. It is not simply about following a spectacular, charismatic leader who does miracles. It is about living a life of servanthood that carries us through suffering. Once he has explained the path of discipleship, Mark is ready to declare who Jesus is: he is the resurrected Lord, the Messiah.
We receive this good news in faith, for we are either going to embrace this Jesus or not. The invitation to discipleship that we meet with in Mark’s account is rooted in the character and life of Jesus, not in clever arguments. If our path is to pursue the path that Jesus has walked, then we too need to die in order to be raised to new life. Paul picks it up in Romans 6:4: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
This is Jesus’ pattern for our life. We are a people called to to die to the selfishness of the age we live in, to our own desires to be popular, and to the sinful desire to do life our way rather than his. This is the daily challenge that faces us all.
Yet, as we celebrate Easter, we need to remember that neither the struggle towards Christ-like living nor the pain of this present world is unending. As Tony Campolo often says, “It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming.” The reign of our God and King has begun and is coming in its fullness; and nothing can withstand it. It may be that life is hard for you, as a disciple right now. It may be that challenges will come into your life that are unexpected. It may even feel as if the darkness of Good Friday is overwhelming, but we are not without hope. As we reflect on the power of the Resurrection, we are reminded that God is victorious, life will conquer death, light will triumph over darkness, and hope will swallow up despair.