March 29, 2021
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
I heard a story recently that added a new dimension to my thinking about Easter. A couple took the risk during the pandemic to have their baby girl baptized. The couple were immigrants to this country from Mexico, where they had struggled in poverty, and over the past decade had lost two children to miscarriage and two children to infant mortality. Coming to the United States, they both found work and much improved health care, and they were finally able to give birth to a strong, healthy girl – Nueva Vida Gonzalez, in English, New Life Gonzalez!
In the church, we casually turn the phrase, “out of death, new life.” We annually commemorate the trial, torture, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, but without the full awe and wonder at its miraculous meaning. For the Gonzalez family, Nueva Vida must be the source of greatest joy, greatest hope, greatest relief, and greatest miracle they have ever known. In our own Christian tradition, the hope of new life, new possibility, new potential, came to earth wrapped in the package of a tiny child. The bridge from Christmas to Easter is a short one. All the potential and possibility of God came to earth in human form, lived and taught and healed and led, was unjustly accused and condemned and was brutally put to death. But that did not end the potential and the possibility, because the power of God is greater than every earthly barrier and constraint. Death itself was conquered and Jesus – Messiah and Savior and Redeemer – returned to life, nueva vida.
Recent news across this country has been heart-breaking. Mass shootings in Atlanta, California, Oregon, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Colorado in one seven-day period leaving more than twenty people dead. A one-year-old in Pittsburgh, killed by wild crossfire that pierced a wall, striking him in his crib. In Wisconsin in 2020, we had 10 mass shootings that killed 11 people and wounded 42. Across the country, law enforcement officers faithfully carrying out their sworn duty to “protect and serve,” put their lives on the line, and in the incident in Boulder, Eric Talley, lost his. The January 6 attack on our nation’s capital showed how vulnerable our police and peace officers can be.
Death is all around us. It is part of our lives, but so much death is not “natural” but “caused” and “forced” and “tragic.” This is the truth of the world, but it is not God’s truth. God’s truth is life over death, triumph over tragedy, and hope over despair. As God’s Easter people, we choose life, and we choose to promote life in every way possible. We celebrate new life – new life in Christ and new life in and for the world.
Easter people are a people of joy, not sorrow. We are a people of redemption from tragedy. We are a people of hope in the face of overwhelming loss. We do not give the final word to destruction and violence and hostility. God is our final word, and God is love. From the depths of the shadows of Good Friday’s cross and the utter darkness of the Saturday in between it and Easter, we emerge as champions of life and security and the health and well-being of all.
One of our Ten Commandments is “you shall not take life” (often translated as “kill,” or less accurately, “murder”) because we should never take away that which God has given. To destroy any creation is to despise the creator. What we do to each other is what we do to Jesus the Christ (see Matthew 25). To destroy the life that God has given is to reject the Holy Spirit. For Easter people, it is not enough to shake our heads in sadness when we hear of killings and to pray about the situation. We are the people of new life – nueva vida – and we are charged to be peacemakers and peace-builders and peace-keepers. To work for peace is to act against violence and killing and harm.
My beautiful and beloved Wisconsin people let us celebrate life and celebrate it abundantly. Let us never take for granted safety and security, for ourselves, for our children, for our communities, and for our world. Let us choose life and recommit to do no harm and to do all the good we can. And let us work for peace, for the peace Jesus promises and that only God can give. A peace that passes all human understanding, and that has the power to transform this world and give nueva vida to all. Thanks be to God.
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).