It’s time for joyous, bright, colorful feasts and celebrations. (Whoa, did you hear the news that we have two new Pope Saints?! Hooray!)
I especially love the Easter season for the Biblical readings that we pray with. We get to hear many of the inspiring stories from the earliest days of Christianity, when it was a brand-new baby religion, dealing with all sorts of identity issues. Wait, are we Jewish or something different!? What do we believe? How do we do this?
Essentially, after the phenomenal resurrection and then the ascension of Jesus, his earliest followers were left staring at each other with their mouths all agape and a certain question written all over their confused faces: Now what?!
To help clear up the questions, the Holy Spirit led the way and God provided some strong leadership (Hooray for Peter, the first Pope!). Those with agape faces quickly became very bold and then formed strong, prayerful, compassionate communities. United, they risked their lives for the Gospel. At first, they called themselves the followers of The Way (one of Jesus’ names). They professed in public that Jesus was the Messiah and got more and more people to join them in their faith, even though it was dangerous and deadly for them to do so.
Love was bold and faith was fearless. By the power of the Risen Christ, all sorts of miracles were able to occur through the believers. Some of the stories help us know that the Church was refreshingly human (like the one about the guy who fell asleep during some preaching) and some miracles were just amusing. (Here’s the entertaining article I use to teach my students about the miracles in the Acts of the Apostles.) In addition to the miracles, many Christians were tortured and martyred during this time. Amazingly, this inspired more people to get in on the action.
For sure, when things were just getting started in the early Church, there was no shortage of excitement and mind-blowing news. The believers imitated Christ and were eager to love others boldly, radically and non-violently. This meant they’d be loving and peaceful even if it killed them, literally. A certain purity and fervor bonded the faith communities and helped the Gospel to spread like wildfire.
A lot has changed in 2,000 years and now the Church doesn’t look much like it did when it began. If the shrugs my students show when I ask them if they would be a Christian even if it were illegal and deadly is any indication, a lot of the original fervor of this faith has burnt out.
So, what happened? Where has all the fervor gone?
Well, Christianity became popular, acceptable and credible. Ask any historian and they’ll likely agree: once a movement enters into the mainstream, it is no longer radical and countercultural. When the unconventional becomes ordinary, it quickly conforms to the culture and gets watered down.
Theologian Greg Boyd does a decent job of summing up how this problem infected Christianity:
Indeed, we certainly need to stop trying to bend Christ into our image.Instead, we need to conform our lives to who Christ truly is: humble, non-violent, powerless, forgiving and generous.
Let us pray that our faith can become as countercultural and courageous as it was for our Christian ancestors. Let us remember that Christ has conquered death and we are free.
Let us be real, resurrection, Easter people who will rise up to Truth: the cross is no longer a symbol of oppression and torture, but a sign of how we are called to love and how we have been loved. We embrace the cross and boldly proclaim the song of our freedom: Jesus lives! Amen! Alleluia!