Paul Baglyos, Baltimore, MD
A familiar Easter hymn calls Jesus the “risen conqu’ring Son.” In Romans 8 Paul says we are “more than conquerors” through Christ. In a world which has much tragedy and suffering, what does Paul mean? Are we really more than conquerors? How?
More Than Conquerors
Two weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, terrorist explosions destroyed three churches as well as four hotels in Sri Lanka. Less than one week earlier, a massive fire threatened to destroy the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. News accounts and images of those events and their aftermaths are widely available on the web. Many noted how particularly painful these events were, coming as they did, in the season when Christians celebrate the Resurrection.
- What were/are your reactions to the news about the Notre Dame fire and the Sri Lanka bombings?
- Are those stories of any concern to you? Why or why not?
- How did other people you know react to those stories? What did you hear or read from other people about the fire and the bombings?
Third Sunday of Easter
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We know that the church is people rather than buildings, but many people who belong to the church identify with the buildings in which they gather for worship, prayer, and devotion. The burning of Notre Dame brought sorrow to many people around the world because of the religious and cultural heritage the building represents. The churches in Sri Lanka were targeted because the bombers knew those buildings would be full of people on Easter Sunday morning. The bombers wanted to kill people and the churches they targeted provided strategic opportunities for their gruesome intentions.
These recent events offer spectacular reminders that the church is not exempt from the hardship, suffering, and evil which afflict the world. At Easter the church rejoices in the good news of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, often singing “Thine is the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son.” But the risen Christ remains also and always the crucified Son, the one whose hands and side eternally bear the marks of his execution on a cross (see John 20:24-27). Jesus conquered death, not by wielding its power as a retaliatory weapon, but by enduring its torment with an unshaken trust in God’s love and promise. For Jesus, conquering death meant not evading its grasp, but acting upon the knowledge that God’s embrace of us is certain and secure. So the “risen, conqu’ring Son” continues to act in our world and in our lives.
Jesus tells Peter – impulsive, impetuous Peter – that a time will come when he (Peter) will be led where he does not wish to go. Perhaps in this puzzling statement Jesus seeks to remind Peter that the community of resurrection witnesses shares the same vocation as its resurrected Lord, to witness to God’s love in the midst pain. As it is for Christ, so it must be also for the church.
On Easter Sunday, amid the news of the church bombings in Sri Lank, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton tweeted these words from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress or persecution or peril or sword? As it is written ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long’ . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Christians are more than conquerors because Christ their Lord is conqueror. For us as for him, however, we conquer not by evading the grasp of death, hardship, suffering and evil, but by facing such torments in the trust that God’s grasp is more certain and secure than any of those things, and that nothing can separate us from the love and the promise of God who holds us eternally.
Like Peter, we too will find ourselves at times being led where we do not wish to go. Remember how Jesus prayed in Gethsemane before his arrest, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me”? (Luke 22:42) We go knowing that Christ himself is the one leading us, calling us to follow him into the places where the world’s sorrow, grief, terror, and pain call out for healing and renewal. The good news of Christ’s resurrection from the dead does not put him—or us— above it all. Rather it is our food for the journey, our strength for the mission, and our cause for rejoicing.
- What do you think Jesus means by what he tells Peter in John 21:18?
- In Luke’s Gospel, a story about a miraculous catch of fish occurs early, in chapter 5, well before the death and resurrection of Jesus. Do you think that John’s Gospel relates a similar but different story, or that John has located the same story differently for a theological reason?
- How do you understand Jesus’ command to Peter to “feed my sheep”? What did that mean for Peter? What does it mean for you?
- Read together the words of the hymn, “Thine Is the Glory.” Discuss together whether and how you have experienced in your own life any of the affirmations in the words of that hymn.
- Share with each other any favorite Easter hymns or songs and tell how and why those are meaningful to you.
Almighty God, you inspired Simon Peter to confess Jesus as the Messiah and Son of the living God. Keep your church firm on the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth and follow one Lord, your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 55)