Risen Indeed

      Comments Off on Risen Indeed

During the middle of the twentieth century, Josef Stalin relentlessly tightened his ideological grip on the Soviet Union.

Stalin subscribed to the view that religious thought and freedom were obstacles to the birth of the “new man” promised by Marxism – obstacles that could be ground to powder by government intervention. 

Churches were closed.  Outspoken priests were arrested.  Worshipers were threatened with violence.  Atheism became official state policy.  

School children were invited to close their eyes and pray for blessings from God.  When no such blessings appeared, they were instructed to close their eyes again and pray for blessings from Stalin.  Teachers would quietly slip bags of candy onto their desks.

For seven decades, the Soviet Union proactively aimed to eradicate Christianity’s thousand-year legacy in Russian culture.

Stalin unleashed a kind of Marxist speakers bureau – gifted presenters who preached the intellectual supremacy of atheism and the glories of the Communist State at mandatory gatherings around the nation.  One such speaker worked his crowd for more than two hours.  Empty, emotionless faces started back at him.  When he asked for questions at the end, there was silence.

That’s when a Russian Orthodox priest in the crowd suddenly shouted, “Christ is risen!”  Immediately the entire audience roared in response:  “He is risen, indeed!”

When the Iron Curtain began to come down more than 30 years ago, Western sociologists expected to discover that Russia’s citizens had been “re-educated” concerning religion.  Or at least they would be spiritually ambivalent.  Instead they were surprised to learn that approximately 70% of the population retained a vigorous belief in God – in spite of a concerted governmental effort to eliminate this perceived ideological weakness.

How are we to account for this resilience?

The ardent secularist Christopher Hitchens suggested that humanity’s fascination with faith might be a genetic mistake – a dysfunction of the brain that has somehow survived the pruning process of biological evolution.  In other words, we just can’t help ourselves. 

Or it could be that something (or Someone) was turned loose at the first Easter – a transforming power that cannot be stopped by threats of violence or mandatory re-education.

A few years ago, author and pastor Brian McLaren reflected on the “mysterious hope beyond all words” that lies at the heart of that story:

Of women in dawn hush …
Of men running half-believing …
Of rolled stones and folded grave-clothes …
Of a supposed gardener saying the name of a crying woman …
Of sad walkers encountering a stranger on the road home …
Of an empty tomb and overflowing hearts.

And what does it all mean?

Death is not the last word.
Violence is not the last word.
Hate is not the last word.
Money is not the last word.
Intimidation is not the last word.
Political power is not the last word.
Condemnation is not the last word.
Betrayal and failure are not the last word.

McLaren concludes, “No, each of them are left like rags in a tomb, and from that tomb arises Christ.  Alive.” 

On the other side of Easter, we’re called to live as if those ancient words are true:

He is risen.  He is risen, indeed.