Not too late, say Easter believers

By John Andrews ( Too late? No, it’s still early. The story is far from over. That’s the good news for a weary world, as Jesus’ followers once again commemorate his crucifixion and resurrection at Passover time two millenia ago. Time and again in this greatest of all dramas, the early returns were overturned. Think about it:

On Palm Sunday Christians remembered their Lord’s triumphal entry to Jerusalem where David once reigned. Was this the long-awaited liberator from foreign oppression? That early hope soon faded. By Good Friday, “King of the Jews” was only a mocking insult on the criminal’s cross where Christ died. But the early reactions that night, his disciples’ defeat and his enemies’ elation, were not the last word either. On Easter morning the tomb was empty and the report was: “He is risen.”

Even then the early expectations didn’t hold. Claims that Jesus’ body was stolen, the authorities’ attempt at a coverup, collapsed when he appeared to hundreds of eyewitnesses. On the other hand, his followers’ hunch that the end times were near didn’t prove out either. History went on and still does. Good and evil still battle, hope and hardship still contend.

But all to what purpose? As Holy Week comes round anew with the spring moon, repeating the cycle of 20 long centuries, skeptics feel justified in asking what’s different, what’s better after all these aeons of religion? Believers in turn feel, or ought to feel, the burden of proof in our assertion that the best is yet to come – it’s still early.

We begin the proof by noting that human experience has a story line. History is not, as some wag said, just one darn thing after another. What’s better in our day because Jesus died and rose in Caesar’s day, say Christians, is that forgiveness and love are in the world more fully. New beginnings are in the world; new life for persons who thought they were at a dead end.

Christ’s followers have a woefully uneven record of living out this promise. Yet he keeps fulfilling it himself, in spite of us. And he does so for the most unlikely people. Even as this suffering servant hung on the cross, when everyone watching thought it was too late, he showed it was still early – speaking with authority to redeem a thief, give his grieving mother a new son, and even forgive his murderers.

The unconditional love that Jesus of Nazareth lavishes on everyone, everyone, is the hardest thing about him for me to imitate, I’ll tell you for sure. The political opponents my column sometimes harshly condemns? He’s fine with them. Marxists and Islamofascists? He cherishes each one personally, err as they may. I am shamed by his gentle patience with each atheist, his tender heart toward each illegal alien.

My Lord is so far ahead of me in the forgiveness department that I blush to call myself one of his men; still I stumble on in his footsteps. He was harder on religious hypocrites than government hacks, tougher on temple profiteers than slum-dwelling prostitutes. Who knew? If we who claim to be his church don’t find ourselves startled and chastened by him every single day, we’d best wake up.

A second chance, a fresh start, a clean slate, the last made first, a new ballgame in the ninth, a God who believes in you even if you don’t believe in him – it sounds crazy, but that’s what Easter means. Yes, the Cross is foolishness, said Paul; but it’s also salvation. For all of us fools who thought it was too late, check the calendar. Holy Week this year began with April Fool’s – plenty early for everything a surprising Savior has in store.