Easter People

April 4th, 2012

Easter in a Name

She was standing near the tomb, weeping. After all the loss and violence of the last few days, there was no room in her mind or her heart for anything else. Mary bent down and peered into the place where Jesus’ body had been placed after his crucifixion. The body was gone, but two angels greeted her there with the question, “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13).

In her shock, even though angels confronted her, her mind could only go to the most plausible explanation: “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him” (verse 13). Even when the risen Jesus later confronted her, her expectations were still the same. Bad news was all she knew. She dared not hope for something different. Then Jesus said her name, “Mary,” and the first Easter arrived (verse 16).

As John’s Gospel tells the Resurrection story, the focus is not on the special effects. Easter is not a story about corpses being transformed and revived. Humanity didn’t look any different on Sunday morning than it did on Friday afternoon. Jerusalem was still filled with the same roiling troubles that had contributed to Jesus’ death. But in the simple interaction with Mary, Jesus’ resurrection took full effect. She—and the world—would never be the same. The gospel had overtaken the narrative of death. Good news was the new story.

Today’s Lead Story—Good News

FaithLink frequently presents the gospel story in connection with events and trends going on in the contemporary world. Often the news of the day is troubling, disturbing, and controversial. But there is a danger in giving too much weight to the world’s bad news. It may give the illusion that evil is the most important word for us to hear. Good news may seem less noteworthy—a light piece with which to end a newscast. But what if the good news was the lead story? What if we believed that in these stories we were getting glimpses of God’s reign breaking in?

This week, we are going to look at several stories that were not front-page news, but stories that speak to our deepest hopes for the world. One such story profiles Angela Zhang, a 17-year-old science wiz from Cupertino, California. It’s not unusual for high school students to win science fairs, even fairs with large prizes like the $100,000 award Zhang received from the Siemens Foundation. But what sets Zhang apart is the focus and motivation of her work.

Zhang has a family history of cancer. Her great-grandfather contracted liver cancer, and her grandfather died from lung cancer. “Why does this happen[?]” she asked herself. “Why does cancer cause death? What are we doing to fix this and what can I do to help?”

As reported in the New York Daily News, these questions guided her work. The result was the creation of a nanoparticle that works in a concentrated way, killing cancer cells without impacting the healthy tissue around them. It has the potential to be a life-saving treatment for millions of cancer patients. Zhang produced amazing work, but her vision and hope-filled response to her family tragedies stand out as good news.

Kidneys to Strangers

Another Californian made the news with a radical act of kindness for a stranger. Last August, Rick Ruzzamenti of Riverside gave one of his kidneys to someone he didn’t know. Ruzzamenti was inspired by a friend who had donated to help another friend. Ruzzamenti’s kidney ended up in a man in Livingston, new Jersey.

What makes this story more wonderful is that Ruzzamenti’s act started a chain of donations. The niece of the man who received his kidney made a donation, giving one of her kidneys to another stranger. As of February, 30 people have received kidneys as the result of the chain of giving set off by Ruzzamenti’s act. Donald Terry, a man in Joliet, Illinois, was the most recent recipient. He was expecting to have to wait five years or more for a transplant.

With some 67,000 people dying every year from kidney failure in the United States, the need for transplant donors is great. Ruzzamenti is matter-of-fact about his gift. According to the GOOD magazine website, which reported his story, he said, “People think it’s so odd that I’m donating a kidney. . . . I think it’s so odd that they think it’s so odd.”

Riding to Support Veterans

Jeremy Staat and Wesley Barrientos are hoping for another sort of chain reaction from their efforts. The two veterans of the Iraq War are participating in a cross-country bicycle ride to raise awareness of a hidden crisis among veterans—suicide. NBC reported on the journey these two men are undertaking from the Wall of Valor in Bakersfield, California, to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. The “Wall to Wall Cross Country Bicycle Ride” will take them on a 4,163-mile journey that will include stops to talk with veterans, students, and community groups. They plan to conclude the trip on Memorial Day.

The NBC report quoted US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics that reveal an annual death toll from suicides among veterans of about 6,500. With more than one million veterans expected to leave military service in the next five years, the demand for services, including mental health, is expected to be high. Staat, a retired nFL player, doesn’t want struggling veterans to be forgotten. “They deserve our gratitude, and they should get the help they need,” he said.

Barrientos faces a particular challenge on the ride. He lost both of his legs in a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2007. He will be using a specially made hand-cranked bicycle on the 100-day expedition. “My situation isn’t special,” Barrientos told NBC. “It’s a common situation in the VA. And what about veterans who don’t have visible wounds like I have? What kind of treatment do they get?”

Living as Easter People

These are small stories. They don’t capture mass attention like tsunamis or wars. But each of these stories gives us a snapshot of a better world. Angela Zhang used her energy and intelligence to imagine a world without cancer. Rick Ruzzamenti made an extraordinary gift to a stranger and inspired a chain of self-sacrificial action. Jeremy Staat and Wesley Barrientos are refusing to look the other way as their fellow veterans struggle. These ordinary people are operating out of their hopes that they can be agents of change.

Christians engage in hope-filled practices because of the revolutionary message of the Resurrection. As Paul reminded the Corinthian church, it doesn’t take exceptional people to embody the coming reign of God. “Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class” (1 Corinthians 1:26). And yet, these are exactly the kinds of people God chooses.

The gospel, or good news, is what Paul and those first disciples were called to proclaim in the wake of Mary’s garden encounter with Jesus. It seemed foolish to their hearers. But the early Christian communities that formed around the Easter message were signs of a new reality. God was reordering the world so that a new wisdom could be revealed—a wisdom that proclaimed that death and despair would not have the last word.

The medieval theologian Julian of Norwich had a series of dramatic visions as she went through a serious illness that left her close to death. In one of the visions, she saw the whole of the universe reduced to the size of a hazelnut. In such a state, the universe looked vulnerable and insignificant. It seemed to her that it could pass out of existence in an instant. But she was shown that the universe was preserved and cared for by God’s love, which was revealed by Jesus on the cross. And despite her grave illness and despite the fragility of goodness in a world marred by sin, she was able to proclaim, “But all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Good news helps us affirm Julian’s vision and inspires us to live as Easter people.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs.

comments powered by Disqus