Experiencing the cross

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 19, 2003

The ancient message of Easter remains fresh. &uot;Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.&uot;

The women who so deeply had loved Jesus as man, now witnessed the promise fulfilled with those words spoken by an angel at the tomb where Jesus had been placed after the crucifixion.

He had risen. The women ran to tell his disciples but met their risen Lord along the way. &uot;Do not be afraid,&uot; Jesus said to them, echoing the angel’s words.

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Priests and pastors throughout the world today will center their messages on the resurrection of Christ. Each will bring to the pulpit a personal history with the holiest of Christian holidays.

At Mount Olive Baptist Church in Sibley, the joy of Easter will ring throughout the new sanctuary, dedicated only a few weeks ago, said the Rev. Douglas Logan.

The congregation had expected their new church to be completed early in the year. However, the timing could not have been more perfect, Logan said.

&uot;Easter is the beginning of new life in Christ Jesus, and we’re looking to have a truly blessed service,&uot; he said. &uot;We will celebrate the Lord rising from the grave in our new church in the spring with all the flowers starting to bloom. It will be a grand time and a reviving of our spirit as Christians.&uot;

New life, fresh start, revived hope &045; all figure in messages religious leaders expect to present their congregations.

For the Rev. Mike O’Brien, pastor at Assumption Catholic Church and associate pastor at St. Mary Basilica, the full meaning of Easter has grown within him through life experiences.

&uot;When I was a young man, Easter did not make a lot of sense to me. Christmas did, but I never could get into Easter,&uot; O’Brien said. &uot;But the older I get and the more I experience the ups and downs, pains and crosses of life, Easter began to speak to me.&uot;

Easter is about Jesus’ victory over death, he said. &uot;His resurrection gives us new life and victory over despair.&uot;

What’s more, that message of victory is as clear in the 21st century as it was nearly 2,000 years ago, said the Rev. Bill Hurt, pastor at First Baptist Church in Natchez.

&uot;The message of 2000 years ago is relevant today. The message is the same. Christ is our high priest, and through him God made the ultimate sacrifice,&uot; Hurt said.

&uot;This Easter we’re going to look beyond the resurrection to the ascension of Jesus,&uot; Hurt said, describing the message of his Easter Sunday sermon. &uot;We’re going to look at where Jesus is today and what he’s doing today.&uot;

Further, another important message of the season is that Christianity does not seek the past but lives in the present.

&uot;When Moses asked God who he should say sent him to the Israelites, God answered, ‘Tell them I am. I am the one who was and shall be and who will continue to be,’&uot; Hurt said. &uot;The ascension affirms we are in the presence of the living God.&uot;

That presence of God on Earth and the resurrection promise arise in often surprising ways, O’Brien said.

On a recent visit to see a friend hospitalized with a severe disability, the question was posed to him, O’Brien said. &uot;He asked me, ‘what is the resurrection all about, anyway?’ I told him, ‘It’s about your recovery from your operation. It’s about a new season and new hope,’&uot; O’Brien said.

Modern man tends to seek instant resurrection, he said. &uot;We live in a world that says there should be no pain or suffering, but I don’t think there’s an instant resurrection. The resurrection ultimately is tied to the cross. And Jesus’ way was to embrace the cross and not run from it.&uot;

Hurt said pastors have a challenge in getting their congregations beyond feelings and into relationships with Jesus Christ.

&uot;How do we see Jesus in today’s world? We see him in the Brown family as they experience the loss of their loved one,&uot; he said, referring to Army Cpl. Henry Brown, who was killed in Iraq and buried Saturday at the Natchez National Cemetery.

&uot;We see the risen Jesus Christ in the unwed pregnant woman and in the homeless person.&uot;

Hurt said living out the words of Jesus to minister to &uot;the least of these&uot; is how Jesus taught his followers to carry forward the message of eternal hope.

Being a Christian is not always easy. &uot;Sometimes we want the message to be different We want to know how to deal with the world of terrorism, war, joblessness, a bad economy,&uot; Hurt said. &uot;What we do know is that even in a world that seems out of control, God is in charge. He is not a God of chaos but a God of order.&uot;

Nor is understanding the resurrection always easy, O’Brien said.

&uot;Without the pain and suffering, it is hard to experience the cross,&uot; he said. &uot;In this age, there is just as much suffering as ever, no matter the technology, the modern medicine.&uot;

The words of Jesus when he calls out to God that he feels forsaken are words elicited by human pain.

&uot;When I find myself in a pastoral crisis, all I can do is point to the cross,&uot; O’Brien said. &uot;Our God knows what it is like to feel abandoned and to need comforting. He’s experienced it himself and led the way through all the suffering right up to Easter morning.&uot;