The Power in the Darkness
“Time to stand up” is the title of a campaign – a call to action for the future of the Church in Germany – that was launched April 8.
It is a campaign in which Christians encourage each other to bear witness to their faith in words and deeds, and in doing so make a contribution to the renewal of the Church.
Stand up for Jesus – this is what we are encouraged to do, literally, by Easter Sunday sermons. We are called to wake up from our winter sleep and start out refreshed as ambassadors of life.
“Stand up” is not, however, the call that comes first at Easter. First and foremost the call is “The Lord is risen!” This is the heart of our Christian faith. We confess: “Jesus lives!“ This year, we are making this proclamation on the same date in both the Eastern and the Western churches, a wonderful opportunity for shared witness, especially as there is so much we can learn from other Christian traditions for the celebration of Easter.
“The Lord is risen.” Some Christians can say this with triumph, others with hesitation. It is almost inconceivable that Jesus’ brutal execution was not an end but a beginning. It is hard to trust in the power of life when the brute force of death makes itself felt in so many ways. Calls to action only help up to a point. They do cause us to stop and listen, but real change, renewal from the inside out, this can only come from the risen Lord who calls: “I live and you shall live!”
We are first addressees of this message, and then we become witnesses, unless we hide this Easter light under a bushel. Light of course works most powerfully in places that are truly dark.
At the opening of the North Germany Annual Conference in Oldenburg recently, we heard moving words from Pastor Rainer Mittwollen, who preached on the following verse from Charles Wesley’s hymn “And can it be that I should gain”: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
Rainer Mittwollen explained that the Wesleys did not simply talk about the “night” of separation from God. They actively challenged this darkness by seeking out people in the darkest of situations, for instance by regularly visiting prisoners living in brutal prison conditions.
Because John and Charles Wesley had first-hand experience of people who felt utterly lost and far from God, they also witnessed salvation at work.
No one can pull themselves out of the quagmire. And that is why Jesus comes right into our messy lives, so that even the poorest and weakest among us can experience: I am God’s beloved child. Jesus looks at us and sees in us the person we can become through God’s grace – and that is how we are able to stand up. Like the Wesleys in their day, we too can reach out to people whose lives may feel cold and dark.
Over the course of the North Germany Annual Conference we heard plenty of examples of reaching out to refugees and to people in socially deprived areas of our cities; even worship services in cemeteries to proclaim “The Lord is risen!”
The core message of Christianity is that even in death we move towards life. We bear witness to Christ not only by being active for Him as long as we are able; our witness continues when we ourselves are weak – and carried by faith.
*Wenner leads the Germany Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church. Her commentary was translated by Gillian Horton-Krueger.