Church historian John Knox has made this provocative observation that to most people living at the time of the first Easter, “the only difference between theworld as it was just after the Resurrection and as it had been just before the Resurrection was that the Christian Church now existed. Except for the Church, the event had not occurred.”
Yet, in less than 300 years the pagan Mediterranean world became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth had indeed been raised from the dead. How? They experienced a joy, an enthusiasm, and a power at work in the church, which they finally concluded could only be explained by the risen Christ being alive and at work among these “Christians,” empowering them to do the extraordinary.
The same is true for our secular world today. If the non-churched in our present world are to be convinced that “Christ is risen!” it will be for the reason that they see a joy and power at work in us which cannot be explained in merely human terms. At first, they may not know to call this joy and power “the risen Christ.” But that is all right. That will come in due time.
How does the world see the joy and power of the risen Christ in us? One way is when we gather for worship. If our sanctuaries are filled with joyful, enthusiastic people, eager to hear a word they cannot hear anywhere else and to apply that word to their lives and the world they live in, that gets the attention of the world outside. People often ask me, “Why are the non-denominational churches growing?” One reason is that they are filled with people who enjoy being in worship because they get something out of it, and so they invite their friends to come and have a similar experience. The other day, my friend, recently retired UM pastor, John Flowers observed, “Why would anyone want to join a church whose members weren’t excited about coming to worship?”
A second, even more important way in which outsiders see the power of the risen Christ at work in us is through our acts of love for others that go way beyond the world’s norms. Richard Foster points out that even the Roman emperor Julian, a confirmed pagan, had to admit “these godless Galileans feed not only their poor, but ours also.” By A.D. 250 Christians in Rome were caring for some 1500 needy people. And around A.D. 400, John Chrysostom, bishop of the new capital at Constantinople, wrote, “Every day the Church here feeds 3,000 people. Besides this, it takes food and clothing to prisoners, the hospitalized, cripples, and pilgrims.” No wonder historian Rodney Stark has written: “Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world…the source of a new culture capable of making ancient city life more tolerable.”
How did they do it? As St. Paul explains, “Not I, but Christ living in me!” (Galatians 2:20). That is how the ancient world came to know that “Christ is risen!” That is how our world will come to know the same.
It is time for us to live what we believe—to show our world that Christ lives in us!