But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NRSV)
There have been years when Lent requires us to push beyond a kind of popular cultural optimism and a false sense of wellbeing and confront the world as it really is from the perspective of the poor and marginalized. Some years we have had to push hard to let in the harsh realities so that as we embrace resurrection we do so knowing it only makes sense given the real power of death that destroys real bodies and cripples real souls and endangers our planet in real ways.
We would probably all agree this is not one of those years. This is a distinct if confusing moment in the life of the world. Where the power of death, destruction, racism, sexism, violence, poverty, human displacement and environmental destruction is evident to almost all of us almost all of the time. We face humanitarian and ecological crises of an unprecedented scale. Old paradigms and prior concepts no longer provide the answers and seem, in fact, to be part of the problem.
My ministry as WCRC general secretary, together with President Jerry Pillay, other executive staff colleagues, the officers and members of the Executive Committee and Regional Councils, have made it abundantly clear that the great majority of our member churches are living at the brutal and bitter cutting edge of this turbulent reality. Lent requires no extra effort to put us in touch with the suffering of the poor and marginalized or the shaking of the assumptions about justice and human rights. We are all confronted with these large scale realities daily.
My recent visits have taken me to India, Colombia, Nigeria, Taiwan and Lebanon. In many places the reality of human bodies broken by the violence of death was evident. We bear in our body the suffering of the victims of violence as Jesus was. The women suffering and broken by gender based violence. The unspeakable ravages of growing poverty and hunger. The multiple forces displacing people from their homes and lands. This truth revealed through faith is also the simple fact that our churches are deeply embedded in the reality of the world. And the present times are scandalous and hard in too many ways.
Here in Hannover, Germany, I have a colleague who always presses me to be hopeful and uplifting in what I write. And of course the great gift of visiting and accompanying our churches at this present time is that there is simply no gap, no distance between owning and embracing the reality of the death and brokenness that as Paul says “we always carry in the body through the death of Jesus”—and that is the reality of our present times and witness to the “extraordinary power that belongs to God and does not come from us.”
The powerful witness of our member churches in every context is that they live the Gospel truth of 2 Corinthians 4 as one seamless, whole truth.
“Afflicted in every way AND YET not crushed.”
“Perplexed AND YET not driven to despair.”
“Persecuted AND YET not forsaken.”
“Struck down AND YET not destroyed.”
We see in the life and witness of our church the hard and powerful truth that as we embrace the reality of the suffering and broken bodies of the poor, the marginalized and the suffering people and planet we embrace the death of Jesus and as we do so the LIFE of Jesus is ALSO made visible through our bodies.
This Lent the strong truth is that hope comes as God’s gift, even as we face the reality of sin and death, carrying in our body the broken bodies and death of those that suffer. AND YET the extraordinary power of God and the life of Jesus is ALSO made visible made real through us.
Every visit to communities afflicted by militarism, religiously “justified” violence, overwhelming racism, ravaging violence against women bursts forth with this unshakable and integral truth: Our faith is all about facing reality AND YET receiving the gift of hope. We boldly bear the bodies broken by death and ALSO make the life of Jesus visible.
We are preparing together for our General Council meeting in Leipzig, Germany, at the end of June this year, drawing on the rich and deep traditions of over 500 years of the Protestant Reformation(s). We turn to this extraordinary power and in the prayer that is our Council theme we call out: “Living God, renew and Transform us” so that the life of Jesus, the life of the world, may be made visible in our bodies.