A Joyful Journey

In his April blog, Practice Resurrection, Bishop David Bard talks about the power of being kind.

BISHOP DAVID BARD
Michigan Area 

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.     ~Matthew 28:5-6b 

Practice resurrection. ~Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

Christianity first and foremost is about being kind. Love is the more customary word than kindness, but love is too complicated in its symbols, too loaded with history, to be a plain introduction to Christianity….  Sometimes it is hard to tell in what kindness consists. Whether a social welfare system is ultimately kind if it creates a long-term dependent class of people is a debatable point at this stage, and how to amend it to make it more kind is also debatable. But some obvious and upfront meanings of kindness should be affirmed before stumbling on hard cases. These include being generous, sympathetic, willing to help those in immediate need, and ready to play roles for people on occasions of suffering, trouble, joy, and celebration that might more naturally be played by family or close friends who are absent. ~Robert Neville, Symbols of Jesus
 

Clocks have been turned ahead, and the season of Lent moves towards its crescendo in Holy Week, ending with the joyous hallelujah chorus that is Easter. I hope you have found enrichment and renewal this Lenten season and I hope that you will experience anew the hope and joy of the risen Christ this Easter.

Christ is risen! Risen indeed! As Christians we know that the Easter proclamation lies at the heart of our faith. “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised.” With Easter there his hope. With Easter there is joy. Is there more?

I have long appreciated and been intrigued by the final line of Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” as if the title is not intriguing enough. “Practice resurrection.” What might it mean to practice resurrection? Practicing resurrection has something to do with joy and hope. The worst of the world was thrown at Jesus – public mocking and flogging, rejection by some of the religious authorities of his own tradition, abandonment by his closest friends, a legal execution carried out by an imperial government determined to put down any challenges to its rule – and God, in the power of God’s love, raised Jesus. The worst was overcome, and there is joy and there is hope. Our lives are in the hands of this God of new life, this God of resurrection, whose love overcomes the strongest and most brutal human powers and finally overcomes even death.

Yet the question remains, what might it mean to practice resurrection? Christian faith is about much more than joy even when life is difficult and hope even in the face of death, important as these are. Christian faith has something to do with living in the power of God’s love. Christian faith has something to do with being kind.

 “If to practice resurrection is to practice kindness, and if to practice kindness is to be courteous, we need the power of God’s love and Spirit to help us practice resurrection in this divisive and rancorous time in our history.”

United Methodist theologian Robert Neville’s statement, “Christianity first and foremost is about being kind” may seem strikingly odd to many. I would agree that it is an incomplete truth, but also a profound truth. In the words of the United Methodist draft study document on the nature of the church, Wonder, Love and Praise, a document that we will have the opportunity to consider together in the coming months, “the saving love of God is transformative.” The same love of God which raised Jesus from the dead works in human lives and human communities even now, and one way to characterize the direction of that work is by the word “kindness.”

Perhaps to practice resurrection means, in a significant way, to nurture, cultivate and practice kindness. Kindness is among the fruits of the Spirit Paul identifies in Galatians 5. Neville is right to say that sometimes it can be difficult to determine what constitutes kindness. Figuring out the meaning of kindness as it relates to important public policies is often a thorny matter. Yet the difficulty of identifying what is kind in complex matters ought not to excuse us from some of the more obvious meanings of kindness: being generous, sympathetic, willing to help those in immediate need, and ready to play roles for people on occasions of suffering, trouble, joy, and celebration that might more naturally be played by family or close friends who are absent. The power of God’s love which raised Jesus is a power working in our lives and our communities to transform us into being generous, sympathetic, willing to help those in immediate need, and into accompanying others in the celebrations and sufferings of life as friends. Such lives shine with God’s love and grace. Communities of kindness, so understood, are wonderfully attractive places.

Neville also argues that another dimension to kindness is courtesy, “an extremely important and difficult virtue in a society as multifarious as ours.” To be courteous is to acknowledge “who people are in all their differences” and to clearly assert that those who are different from us “are equal to oneself in their importance for the community and in the cosmic assessment of things.” If to practice resurrection is to practice kindness, and if to practice kindness is to be courteous, we need the power of God’s love and Spirit to help us practice resurrection in this divisive and rancorous time in our history. May it be so.

Yet there is something more to practicing resurrection than nurturing kindness and acting kindly. To practice resurrection is to practice kindness trusting with the whole of who we are that this way of kindness is the way of life, trusting that this way of kindness has the power to overcome the worst that the world can come up with. In other words, we practice kindness with joy and hope.

Christ is risen, risen indeed! Hallelujah!  Practice resurrection. Live kindly with hope and joy.