Lent, iPod and ‘carbon fast’

When the Lent season started, a friend of mine decided to fast from Facebook and take-away food. Meanwhile, Bishop Richard Chartres in London, and Joel Edwards, Head of Micah Challenge International, are calling on Christians to give up using their iPods and mobile phones, as well as participate in a ‘carbon fast’ to reduce their carbon footprint. The reason for the ‘carbon fast’ is that Christians can show their solidarity with those suffering from the effects of climate change.

Lent is, of course, about Christians preparing themselves for Easter. And Easter is, of, course about Christ’s death and resurrection. Most people will agree that giving up social networking and junk food will help us to focus on God. But some may question whether the emphasis on ‘carbon fast’ runs the danger of reducing the meaning of Easter to some social justice agenda.

 Tomb3

THE EMPTY TOMB: Siu Fung Wu says the Christian hope is "an embodied resurrected life in the future through Jesus". PICTURE: © Tim Kimberley (www.istockphoto.com)

 

"In our pluralistic world today, the message of Christ’s resurrection is still counter-cultural. No other faiths believe in a God who died and was raised with a new body. Nor do other faiths believe that there is an embodied eternal life for their followers. The secular world does not think that a bodily resurrection is a credible proposition."

In the past I thought that Christ’s resurrection was all about the victory He had won for me so that I might have eternal life. But now I think that it’s much more. In the following I want to affirm the absolute importance of proclaiming Christ’s death and resurrection, but at the same time suggest that the implications of the resurrection are much more profound and far-reaching than we normally think.

Evil overcome and death defeated
In I Corinthians 15 Paul states clearly the paramount importance of Christ’s resurrection. The Christian hope is not about a disembodied existence in heaven at Christ’s return. It is, rather, an embodied resurrected life in the future through faith in Jesus. Most importantly, the resurrection signifies God’s defeat of evil. 

"For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive," Paul reminds us (I Corinthians 15: 22). That is, when Adam disobeyed God, sin entered the world, and evil reigned. But through His death and resurrection, Christ has overcome sin and death (15: 56-57). When He comes back, "He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power." (15: 24) And"‘the last enemy to be destroyed is death." (15: 26) Pain and suffering are inevitable in this life, and death is the ultimate enemy of humankind. But Christ has overcome them all. Our future new bodies will be imperishable. Evil will no longer reign.

No wonder the earliest preaching of the church in Acts frequently proclaims the resurrection of Christ (see, for example, Acts 2: 24, 32; 3: 7, 15, 26; 4 :10; 5 :30; 10: 40; 13: 30, 37; 17: 18, 31, 32). Indeed the message of resurrection was counter-cultural in Paul’s days. In Acts 17: 16-34 the apostle proclaims the Gospel to the people in Athens by way of citing the ancient Greek poets (Acts 17: 28). Here we see how Paul contextualises the Gospel by speaking a language that the local people understand. But in his speech Paul affirms that there is a Creator God who is the Lord of all, and hence undermines the gods found in the Athenian temples. Not only that, he also says that this Creator God will judge the world with justice by Jesus, whom he has raised from the dead (17: 31). This goes against the dominant cultural thinking that there is no resurrection. As Bishop Tom Wright says "The resurrection is flatly ruled out, according to the ground rules of the Areopagus. Paul firmly puts it back in".

Despite his skilful contextualisation of the Gospel, Paul’s insistence on proclaiming Christ’s resurrection invited sneers and rejection (17: 32). But some did become followers of Jesus (17: 34). In our pluralistic world today, the message of Christ’s resurrection is still counter-cultural. No other faiths believe in a God who died and was raised with a new body. Nor do other faiths believe that there is an embodied eternal life for their followers. The secular world does not think that a bodily resurrection is a credible proposition. Like Paul, we are to contextualise the Gospel message and make it relevant to every generation and every culture. But let us never be ashamed of proclaiming the risen Lord, through Him evil has been overcome.

Living for the risen Christ here and now
Indeed resurrection signifies the future and ultimate reign of God. But this future hope has everything to do with our life in the present. After a long chapter speaking on the resurrection, Paul concludes, "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain." (I Corinthians 15: 58) In other words, in view of the hope of the future resurrection, we are exhorted to live for Christ here and now in our daily life.

But living for Christ does mean an alternative orientation of life that lives out his lordship. The Gospel was first preached within the Roman Empire, where Caesar was to be known to be the lord of all. If the early church preached a god who only ruled in heaven and that his followers’ hope was to live in heavenly bliss, then Caesar would have no problems with them. Such a god would pose no threat to Caesar, nor his Empire. But to say that Jesus is a living resurrected Lord (who has been raised after dying on a Roman cross) would pose a threat to Caesar’s claim of lordship. This Son of the Creator God is not dead but is alive. He will return to judge the world with justice. As far as his followers are concerned, Jesus is the true Lord, and Caesar isn’t. The message of Christ’s supreme lordship came to a head later on in Revelation, where we find that the church was severely persecuted by Rome.

"If the hope of resurrection means that we want to follow Jesus’ way of life by living simply, caring for the poor, and standing in solidarity with the socio-economically and religiously marginalised, then our lives radiate the love of Christ (even though this rather radical lifestyle may sound silly for some people)."

If Christianity is about going to heaven and that in the meantime Christians are to live like the rest of the world, make money for pleasure, and build ‘empires’ that consist of excess material possessions, promising careers and earthly glory, then the world has no problems with us. If the resurrection is only for our benefits in the future life and has nothing to do with how we live now, then the world will not notice us.

But if the Christian faith is about submitting to the risen Lord in every decision we make, then people will be interested in the reasons why we believe. If the hope of resurrection means that we want to follow Jesus’ way of life by living simply, caring for the poor, and standing in solidarity with the socio-economically and religiously marginalised, then our lives radiate the love of Christ (even though this rather radical lifestyle may sound silly for some people). If our way of life is one that defies the power of the ‘empire of consumerism’ and the ‘empire of self-centredness’, then people will see that we are a community loyal to Christ and not the value system of this world.

No death, no resurrection
Paul says in Romans 8: 16, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory". Here the apostle is saying that in order to share in the glory of Christ, we must be prepared to share at least a measure of His suffering. Jesus was raised to life, but first He had to suffer and die. Here Paul calls us to follow Jesus’ way of life and live sacrificially as we look forward to our resurrection.

My friend is right. Giving up iPods and social networking will help us to reflect and focus on the meaning of Easter. I pray that during this Lent season we will come to a deeper appreciation of the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. But I also hope that our reflection will take us to a place where we are more willing to live sacrificially to proclaim the Gospel, and to stand in solidarity with the poor and oppressed in our world today.