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The Death of Death in the Death of Christ - by Terence Kelshaw

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

Bishop Terence Kelshaw's 2004 Easter Letter
to the Diocese of the Rio Grande

An interesting comment during the Mel Gibson "Passion of the Christ" hype caught my ear when one commentator said that American Christians "take the bible too literally." The commentator was complaining that Mel Gibson had read the story of Christ's passion too literally and that had influenced his portrayal of this little sect of Judaism together with what the commentator described as Mel Gibson's "medieval Catholicism."

The commentator had high praise for what is sometimes called the thinking man's church, the Episcopalians, because apparently we do not take the gospel story literally but rather as a set of spiritual insights to help us toward our becoming Christ.

So that got me thinking! What about the Easter story? How many clergy take that literally? According to a Duke University report called The Health of the Clergy, issued last year, as much as 75% of clergy do not preach the Resurrection at Easter, because they do not believe it took place!

How then did the Christian Good News (the gospel) get out, and was it simply a matter of St. Paul's tenacity and his bullying new gospel that created the small sect which was to have such effect? That is what the Peter Jennings’ three-hour presentation called Jesus and Paul, on the evening of April 6th would have us believe.

Or was it something to do with the lives these believers led and their obedience to the Jesus word? Was it their enthusiasm for the good news, or their evangelism, their "gossiping the gospel" at every turn? It was something of all that, of course, because they had seen an empty tomb, and they had met a Risen Christ.

Within ten years, the death of Jesus and the gospel about Him had reached Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Turkey, the greatest cities in Africa and Asia. One could presume that took place because of St. Paul's strategic vision, but we cannot miss the enthusiasm, the obedience, the different life brought by the believers.

This was no esoteric discussion of theological niceties or distant dilettante church politics but a vibrant and real encounter with the Risen Christ. It was a movement that captivated a multiplicity of races and cultures (without church conferences?) and made great inroads into the aristocracy and among the intellectuals while already changing the lives of countless ordinary men and women. Evangelism was a priority, because the Resurrection was one of the "first things" of the gospel.

The early Christians preached Christ crucified and they also preached Christ Risen! The Lord who broke the shackles of the grave was the one they knew. "We are all witnesses," they said, confident in their assertion of Christ's resurrection and of His daily presence with them.

Dr. Michael Green asks the following question, "I wonder if our contemporaries would say the same of us? Are we known as the people who are always saying that Jesus is not dead but alive and that we know Him?" Green goes on to say that the churches which are growing these days are churches like that. Jesus is our contemporary! Because He is Risen, Jesus is always with us and in His presence, Jesus calls us to a Risen life in Him. Or, as St. Paul would put it, "You have been baptized into His death and have Risen again into His resurrection."

The theologian James Denney puts it another way, "The resurrection of Jesus is assumed to have taken place and to have all the character ascribed to it in the New Testament. It is the basis for the Great Commission to go out and preach the good news to the world.”

Happy Easter! So we shall say to each other. Jesus Christ is Risen today! So we shall acclaim this Easter. Come, let us pray for a new Easter of Risen power and ministry in the name of Jesus, and let us pray the Holy Spirit to empower us for His work.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Terence Kelshaw
Bishop, Rio Grande

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