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Fifty > forty

By Mike Ruffin I’m a words guy. Math isn’t my strong suit, despite the best efforts of Mrs. Pitts, Mrs. Fambro, Mrs. Heinz, Mr. Myles, Mrs. Easton, and Mrs. Byars. Lord knows they tried. (Full disclosure: my math grades were fine. Math just didn’t become part of the fabric of my being as reading and writing did.) But even with my limited mathematical prowess, I know that fifty is greater than forty. (Feel free to check my math, but I’m pretty confident about this.) I bring this up because we have just exited the season of Lent, which lasts forty days, and have entered the season of Easter, which lasts fifty days. The Easter season begins on Easter Sunday and ends fifty days later on Pentecost (which means ‘Fiftieth’) Sunday. So after mourning our mortality and repenting of our sins for forty days, we celebrate resurrection and new life for fifty days. Fifty is greater than forty. This simple math speaks great truth. We have much to mourn. We always do, but these days, we have the additional losses of life due to COVID-19. It is particularly sad to me that so many people are dying without the presence of loved ones, who must stay away because of the virus. If we weren’t already aware of our mortality, surely we are now (despite the fact that some people seem to think they’re immune to the risk and live in arrogant ways that put themselves and others in danger). We have much to repent of. Some folks are quick to say that the pandemic is God’s judgment on a world that rejects God. I’m not willing to jump on that bandwagon. But I do think we should be learning some lessons and repenting of our sins. We should repent of the ways we treat and mistreat one another. We should repent of the precarious position we are too willing to let the most vulnerable among us occupy. For example: people that some of us don’t think deserve $15 an hour are risking their lives to do their essential minimum wage jobs. We also should repent of our unfortunate practices of prioritizing political loyalty over embracing the truth and of cheering falsehood while ignoring facts. We need to keep thinking about and working on our mourning and repenting, even though this year’s Lent observance is over. But now it’s the Easter season. We are in the season of resurrection, of life, and of hope. Fifty is greater than forty. Easter is greater than Lent. Jesus’ resurrection means that none of the realities that threaten and frighten us’”sickness, pain, sorrow, suffering, and death’”have the last word. It means that other, greater realities’”wholeness, joy, and life’”do have the last word. I have little patience with pious platitudes, trite tropes, and clever clichés (and also with abounding alliteration). I’m talking about sayings such as, ‘I fear no virus, because I trust in the Lord.’ The problem with such sayings is that they don’t tell enough truth (at least they don’t in my case, and if you’re honest with yourself, they probably don’t in yours). Yes, I trust in the Lord. But this virus still scares me, not so much because of what it can do to me, but rather because of what it can do to my loved ones and to the most vulnerable in society. When I hear someone speak a pious platitude, I tend to hear them saying, ‘Everything’s going to be all right someday, so I don’t really need to do anything about what’s happening today.’ Now, I affirm and proclaim that, because of Jesus’ resurrection, everything is indeed going to be all right someday. But resurrection also affects the ways we live today. Living in light of Jesus’ resurrection should mean that we will do everything we can to bring about life in the midst of death and hope in the midst of despair. The New Testament teaches that when Jesus returns, those who have died in him will be raised to new life in him. It also teaches that the power of Jesus’ resurrection brings new life to us here and now. When Jesus returns, everything will be one hundred percent good. Life will be everlasting. Death will be no more. We can’t make the complete victory of life over death happen before its time. But I believe that if Christians will live in light of Jesus’ resurrection, life can eke out a slim victory over death even here, even now. But it won’t if we don’t try.

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