Wendell Berry, dubbed the “Poet Farmer,” has spent countless hours walking through the fields and woods of his property, writing about the wonder of nature and the stories that the land would recount if it could use our language. Any farmer or gardener can identify with his delight in the process of “dead” seeds springing to life and morphing into crops, flowers and trees. It is a marvel.
But Berry also considers God’s hand in all of this, and most likely refers to more than horticulture in his exhortation to “practice resurrection.” In this first week of Easter we can take these two words as a way to proceed after six weeks of penitence and a day of celebration. To do more than go back to business as usual.
The cross and resurrection can be regarded as a transaction: God erasing our sin and its consequences by substituting Jesus for us in atonement. That is one way to think of it. But frankly, a transaction is not enough to motivate me in a life of faith.
The Scriptures emphasize over and over again that God has a relationship with us. God is present with us, involved with us. God invites us to share in life and all its goodness. The Old Testament made it clear that God looks on us with compassion and love, continually forgiving us. But we spurn God’s loving attention and take all that mercy for granted.
So one of the ways I like to regard the cross is that God wanted to show us once and for all that our foolish, sometimes evil ways are deadly to us. They are the source of great suffering. But God refuses to hold that against us, and instead entered into it, took it into himself, and let it kill him. Then love lived on.
That is the key: love lived on. God’s love could not be killed.
We are given the story of Peter to show us this truth in the life of one person. Peter, who denied the Lord he loved, whose remorse was profound. Peter walked with Jesus on the beach after the resurrection, and Jesus not only forgave him, he entrusted Peter with the honor of leading his people. “If you love me, move on Peter. Feed my sheep.”
So how can we “practice resurrection?” Jesus asks us to love as he loves. That is our primary responsibility. He said as much when someone asked him what was the greatest commandment. He repeated it in the upper room, in his last lesson to his disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
So we cannot let our love be killed by the actions of others. Like him, we can ask the Father to forgive them even if we cannot, “for they know not what they do.” Jesus chose to regard the brutal guards and haughty religious leaders—and us—as those who were ignorant in their actions instead of acting with malice. He saw them as God’s beloved. He sees us today as God’s beloved. We can do the same, seeing others as victims of their ignorance and sin instead of assuming evil intent. Remembering that they are God’s beloved no matter what they do.
Jesus let the pain and suffering caused by human sin bind him to death of the worst kind because he loves us and has compassion on us. He identified with our worst selves, let us kill him, and broke through to the other side of it to its opposite. In doing so he showed us the reality that we can’t see when we are serving only our own desires and foolish ideals. The deep, eternal reality that is God’s love.
It is that love that fuels the life of God’s reign. That is the source of life for us, the life God calls us to live, a life of fellowship with one another, caring for each other, and extending mercy toward one another. Practicing resurrection is refusing to let sin and selfishness dictate how we will live. It refuses to live with suspicion and chooses love instead.
Now we all know how hard it is to do this consistently. That is why we have to admit that we cannot do it. We rely on the Holy Spirit God has given us. One of the verses that stuns me the most is in Ephesians 1, where we are told that we are given power to live this kind of life. Paul cites “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” We have this power at our disposal! What an incredible gift.
So we rise again daily, to God’s mercies that are “new every morning.” We look for opportunities to love, and even to forgive. We live with intention, with divine love as our source and way of life, love that cannot be obscured or erased. We practice resurrection.