Faces on Faith: Together — though apart — for the holidays
A few years ago, I began an Easter sermon talking about Vikings. No Minnesotans, I don’t mean the football team, but Vikings, those guys with the funny hats who sailed across the Atlantic and explored the New World long before Columbus set foot on a Caribbean Island. OK, not real Vikings. Not Leif Ericson, or any of his crew. No, the Viking I’m thinking of is the cartoon character named Hagar the Horrible.
Hagar is a comic strip drawn by Chris Browne, and features a rather overweight, blustery bearded guy who is always giving his wife a hard time and his teenaged children bad advice. And when not at home, he is usually out storming castles and raiding the countryside. His number two guy is a pretty flimsy looking fellow named Lucky Eddy.
One of my all-time favorite Hagar cartoons shows the Viking stranded on a rock in the middle of the ocean as his longboat is sinking in the background. He is surrounded by crashing waves, lightening and a torrent of rain. As he looks up, he shouts “Why me Lord?” To which a voice from the beyond responds, “Why not?”
Another Hagar strip I really enjoyed showed several of his men huddled together, quaking in fear. Hagar turns to Lucky Eddy and says, “The men are apprehensive about today’s big battle. Why don’t you say something to calm their fears?” Eddy turns to the men and says, “I’m sure we’re all going to heaven!”
Now mind you, that can provide a measure of comfort – and often does. But all too often Easter sermons, including some of mine, have ended with something akin to Eddy’s words of assurance to those Vikings headed into battle. Because of the resurrection, so say preachers, we can know for sure that God will care for us throughout eternity. Or, said in simpler terms, “We’re all going to heaven!” Trust me, I’m glad for that reassurance, it is so very good to know that there is a life to follow this one. But as we face the battles in our lives, as we work through the challenges and struggles of the coronavirus pandemic and so much more, is the fact that we believe heaven awaits us enough? I think not.
Fortunately, the Easter message isn’t just about life after death – in fact, quite arguably, it is more about this life than it is the next. For Christians, the resurrection is a divine affirmation of Jesus and his way of living. It is as if God was saying “yes” to all that Jesus taught and all that he did. The resurrection is a divine exclamation point on his whole ministry! Yes, says God, Jesus got it right! It’s not all about power and control, rather it is about love and mercy. It’s about healing and wholeness. It’s about goodness and grace. It is about the strength found in weakness. It may look like fear and chaos have the upper hand, but they do not. For now, such things seem to be in control, but don’t be fooled!
In these uncertain times, as we face the medical and economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, it would be easy to get caught up in fear. But we who are Christians, are called to remember that Easter isn’t just about life after death, it is also about facing the challenges in this life. It is about finding hope even in the midst of despair. It is about recognizing that in and through the love of God that Christians say can be found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, we can indeed endure. And more than endure. We can be transformed. Even as the Jewish Jesus was strengthened by the Passover story, the same story that strengthens our Jewish sisters and brothers to this day, so we who are Christians can take courage as we remember the Easter story. For through the millennia, God’s love has been revealed in so, so many ways.
Whether you are celebrating Passover this week, at seders where social distancing has caused there to be more empty chairs than just the one reserved for Elijah, or Easter, without the packed pews and congregational voices raised in song, take heart. God’s love endures. And so, will we.
The Rev. Dr. John H. Danner is the senior pastor at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ.