I was talking about the resurrection with a progressive friend the other day. Well, a real leftist. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea, and quoted me an old Joe Hill song about “long-haired preachers” talking about “pie in the sky, by and by.”
I didn’t get a chance to respond to my friend, but I thought I’d take the opportunity now, by relating a story about another leftie songwriter, the great Woody Guthrie.
I’ve told this story many times, preached it a few. It is, alas, probably apocryphal. It’s still a good one, and it goes like this: during World War II, Guthrie did a lot of touring for War Bonds shows, often in the company of the blues musicians Son Terry and Brownie McGhee.
On one occasion, Guthrie was invited to a banquet in Baltimore. In fact, he was ushered up to the table of honor. But looking around, he realized that his pals weren’t with him. He asked his hosts to bring them up to sit at the table, and they quickly responded that Baltimore was a segregated city, where blacks and whites were not allowed to eat in the same room.
Woody pounded the table. “This fight against facism has got to start right here!” he barked.
His hosts tried to calm him, saying that after the war, there’d be plenty of time to address segregation. Give it a few years, they said; now is not the right time.
“THIS FIGHT AGAINST FACISM HAS GOT TO START RIGHT HERE!” he bellowed. And standing up, he threw over the table and stomped out of the room.
Well, like I say, it’s probably apocryphal. But it’s also a pretty good description of the resurrection. Christ’s rising from the dead is more than just a promise of “pie in the sky.” It is a present reality–and a very insistent one at that–demanding that the broken relationships of the world be set aright now.
The realities of the resurrection are so demanding, Paul says in his letter to the Colossians, that things are as different as life and death after the turning point of Easter morning:
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.
The task of believers, according to Paul, is to mature into their new lives by giving up the sins of their former lives:”fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed.”
This is not rule-setting, but something more subtle: Paul wants his readers to judge their actions for themselves, not look to a list of rules for guidance. Maturity, after all, calls for the internalizing of values, and the ability to set them into action appropriately.
And because his readers are now the face of Christ for the world, Paul wants them to take on their newfound maturity RIGHT NOW, doing away with “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language” and replacing them with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” The Colossians’ example is good for their own community, but more important, it is the only means many people will have to know that the world could be different.
Given the present condition of the world, it’s hard to argue with Paul’s sense of urgency. The battle against the condition of the world has got to start right here, right now. Too many are hurting, too many are dying, to wait for pie in the sky. Ready or not, Christ just kicked things off by picking up the grave and dumping it over.
So now what? That, my friends, is up to us.