While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
With all that is happening in our denomination and in our Wisconsin Conference, we truly needed Easter to come this year to remind us of the great and glorious power God has for transformation and redemption. We stand in need of new life – new possibilities, new purpose, new hearts, and new minds. Easter brings us hope following despair, light following darkness, and promise following failure.
It is simple to celebrate the resurrection and feel all is well. Death is defeated. Sin is cleansed. A new reality has been ushered in. But what next? Where do we go from Easter? What’s on the other side?
One might be tempted to think it all gets easier after Easter. One might feel like the Christ has taken care of all the problems of the world, and now all we need to do is wait. One would be wrong; it doesn’t get easier, it just gets more interesting. Following the physical Jesus is one thing. We call it discipleship – Jesus leads, we follow. But what about the risen and ascended Christ? What do we do when the man is no longer with us to follow? What happens when what we have is memory and teachings?
This is the amazing aftermath of Easter leading us to Pentecost. John baptized with water; Jesus promises the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The twelve followers of Jesus are referred to as “disciples” up until the Pentecost event, then they are never referred to as “disciples” again. Something happens. There is a radical and fundamental transformation in the Spirit. Followers become leaders. Students become teachers. Disciples become disciplers, and stewards, and apostles. And collectively, through the gifting and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the church becomes the incarnate body of Christ.
Paul speaks of an affective union – a oneness of essence and spirit as believers live “in Christ,” and we recognize “Christ in us.” The fellowship of baptized believers is transformed, made new, given a new identity and purpose. What Christ came to teach us, we now teach others. The witness Christ offered to challenge the powers and principalities becomes our witness. Judgmentalism and factionalism drops away; we are lifted above all the hostilities, the prejudices, and debates that created “dividing walls” among us. The old life passes away; the new life emerges.
Is this not the message our United Methodist Church needs most to hear? Are we not standing on the threshold of an amazing spiritual paradigm shift where we quit focusing on the negatives and begin building upon the positives? Is it not time to stop harping on what we have been saved from and begin zeroing in on what we have been saved for?
God offers us this new life, freely, generously, unconditionally, and completely. All we need do is accept it, but accept it with our eyes, hearts, and minds wide open. We are not off the hook. No, instead we hold even more responsibility, more opportunity, more demands and obligations than ever. But we have also been given the authority to become a new people; a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We are freed to act mercifully, justly, with compassion, humility and true care. We become a people of deep civility, infinite respect, unbounded forgiveness, and amazing grace. We are living on the other side of Easter. By God’s grace, let us live it wisely and well.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).