These Easter morning words from Mary (John 20:13b) are prophetic for the church today, a time when we may have lost our bearings in our discipleship-oriented denomination.
Peace themes are an integral part of our congregations. We are deeply involved in reconciliation and advocacy work. We seek to bring justice and relief to others. We quilt, we sew, we feed and we clothe. Some of us call for boycotts, divestments and sanctions of products that contribute to injustice.
But have we come to see Jesus’ teaching and ethical examples as the essence of the gospel? I believe we have, and we have said, “This is what the gospel is.” It’s about doing justice, loving mercy. It’s about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry. It’s about working for peace in many and varied situations.
These things are good, but when I study the Bible it reminds me that the work we do is not what the gospel is. The “gospel” sermons in Acts through I Corinthians 15 make me re-think why the first four books of the New Testament are named the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospel is the story of Jesus; God-incarnate, is the gospel!
Did Jesus come among us simply to offer a list of ethical behaviours? Did he come to teach us about peace, primarily? Did the angels say to the shepherds, “Behold, we bring you good news [gospel] of great joy. . . . In 30 years you are going to hear some sermons.”
Jesus preached, yes, and modelled ethical living, but first and foremost he showed us how God is becoming king over creation. With teaching, and with signs and wonders, Jesus showed us what it is going to look like when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness.
Once sin was taken to the cross, once death was conquered on Easter morning, nothing could stand in the way. And in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we are invited to not only join Jesus in that proclamation, but to do it through his power and his authority. In Acts 4:7b, the disciples were not asked, “By whose ethical/moral code did you do this?” Instead, they were asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
Corporately, but also individually, we have been given the power to carry on with that task of demonstrating to the world what it is going to look like when God’s will is done on earth as it already is done in heaven. We’ve been given the same power through which Jesus spoke his words and performed signs and wonders.
I hear Mary’s words differently today. Instead of asking what the Roman soldiers might have done with Jesus’ body, to me they ask what the church may have done with him. In other words, how the church today may have unwittingly limited who Jesus is. “They have taken away my Lord . . . and replaced him with an ethicist, a wisdom teacher, a Ghandi-like figure who had good ideas but died too young.”
Doug Klassen is chair of MC Canada’s Faith and Life Committee and pastor of Foothills Mennonite Church, Calgary.