Last night I read that Chicago has already had twice as many homicides in the first sixty days of 2016 as it did during the same period last year. As I was driving to work this morning, I heard on the news that Columbus has already had seventeen homicides this year. A little over a week ago, a middle-aged man went on a shooting spree, killing six people and wounding two others in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Last weekend, a Baptist minister in Dayton was shot and killed at church. Yesterday morning, a fourteen-year-old allegedly opened fire with a handgun and wounded four of his classmates in Middletown, about midway between Dayton and Cincinnati.
It is the season of Lent, and we have much of which to repent.
I say “we” because, despite what many politicians, pundits, and lobbyists would have us believe, these are not isolated incidents perpetrated by deranged individuals. This is a societal problem for which we all bear some responsibility. We live in a culture of violence, and if we are not doing what we can to counter it by living counter-culturally in imitation of our nonviolent Savior, we are part of the problem.
In Lent we walk with Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem. It’s not a pleasure excursion; it’s a confrontation that, from a worldly perspective, will end badly. Jesus also lived in a culture of violence, and he went to Jerusalem to challenge the purveyors of violence and offer an alternative path. Some chose his way. Others rejected it. Those in power not only rejected it, but put him to death to illustrate their conviction that force and domination constituted the only way to gain and hold political, religious, and economic power. Jesus faced them armed with nothing but love and a fierce commitment to his nonviolent God, and they crushed him.
But as we know, the story didn’t end there. On the third day God not only vindicated Jesus’s message of peace, but also revealed the startling truth that in crushing Jesus the powers had succeeded only in crushing themselves. The power of the domination system was broken more surely on that cross than was Jesus’s body. Over the next two or three centuries, the followers of the Way that Jesus had taught surrendered themselves to being crushed, and in their defiant martyrdom and consistent refusal to cooperate with the culture of violence in which they lived, they helped bring down an empire.
What has happened? Have we given up on Jesus’s vision of the reign of God and capitulated to the reign of fear? Have we rejected the way of the cross in favor of the way of the gun?
Sometimes it feels as if the darkness of the world is all-consuming, and hope is a foolish luxury we cannot afford. The hill of Golgotha is indeed an emblem of that darkness. But then comes Easter, when God’s indomitable light shatters the darkness, bringing the victory of life over death, hope over despair, the reign of God over the culture of violence. We must never forget Easter.
Walk the way of the cross, but always bear in mind the empty tomb. Hope is not a luxury but a necessity; not an impossibility but the very pulse of our life.
Never forget Easter.