In 1992, Bill Clinton was the underdog in the presidential election. His electoral success was due, in large measure, to Jim Caravelle, his campaign manager. Caravelle focused the campaign on one issue and stuck to it: it’s the economy, stupid!
This ability to identify and then concentrate on that which is most important is vital. Caravelle assessed what voters really cared about that year, and refused to allow Clinton to be sidetracked into anything else. It is a lesson in life worth learning.
Because the Church seems to have a lot of trouble with this. Our main point is the Resurrection. Without it, there is no reason for us to gather as Christians and our faith is in vain, as St. Paul points out. We might as well sleep in on Sunday. Without Resurrection, Islam and Judaism would suffice as places to worship the one God, and follow rules for a moral life. Islam in particular already honors Jesus as a great prophet. Strangely, there are people who identify as Christians but reject the Resurrection, including more than a few theology professors, mandated to teach the Faith, and bishops, mandated to defend it. And those who use the term, but twist its meaning to be some kind of ephemeral spirit of life, while rejecting the historical reality that Jesus rose on that specific Sunday in the first century, together with his body, are simply spinning vague wisps and mists with no substance. Either Jesus rose, flesh and blood, at an exact time and place in real history, or we have nothing, and there is no point to being Christian.
It is also bigger than this. The Resurrection itself is not the whole story. To start with the basics, there are two points in history that matter, both generated by the same motivation. The first is the creation, wherein God made us, along with everybody and everything else. The motivation was love. Because the motivation was love, which cannot be forced or predestined, humans were and are free to respond in love or to follow other impulses. The latter has resulted in major continuous catastrophe.
This leads to the second point, which is God’s salvage of the earth, including us. His means to achieve this was the sending of his Son to suffer, die and be raised, so that we, who are now incorporated in the Body of Christ, might rise to life with him. The motivation is still love. Nor is this some scheme to rescue us by snatching us from the grip of an evil planet. Rather, it is the restoration of the whole earth to the original vision of the paradise God intended. Easter is thus the celebration of the central event of all history. Without this event, nothing makes any sense.
But when was the last time you heard life, creation, Christianity and the Gospel explained in church in these terms? Our Lord refuses to stop loving us and the earth which is his, despite numerous provocations. He has acted effectively to save his creatures, through the means of the Resurrection. It is done without our input, but it is done for us and for all around us that we have screwed up. We need to say so clearly and frequently.
Perhaps part of the problem is that it is not about us. On the contrary, we have no hope except to cast ourselves entirely on the mercy of God’s action. There are plenty who try to sugar-coat this, but the Fall is real, and the consequences are tragic. It is universal, but also quite personal. I am part of the problem. You are part of the problem.
That goes against what humans seem to want. We want to control. We want to run things, and do it our way. We want to believe we are basically good people, whether we are Methodists or ISIS. We want to achieve success (usually meaning prosperity) in this life, and move to a better life after that, based on our merit. We have no room for grace.
This is the message the Church has succeeded in making its own. Ask someone, in or out of church, how they define Christianity and you will get more answers than there are snowflakes in a winter. But most will involve being a good person, with a set of rules to follow. Few will answer that Christianity is about being absorbed into the risen Body, accessing the mercy of God on a daily basis, living a life totally dependent on grace. Not many will tell you Christianity is the statement of God’s plan to express his love by restoring our creation, and that he does so through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In short, it’s the Resurrection (do I need to add the “stupid?”). In the muddle of messages emanating from any and all churches about all manner of things, the main point has gotten lost in the clutter. In the muddle and especially the legalism, a significant percentage of the population has been lost, a drain which continues. Even for those who still have a specific connection to a denomination, the focus on the Resurrection is marginal. The messages are about abortion, birth control, conflict resolution, drinking, prayer in schools, Nativity scenes in parks, the righteousness of modern Israel, the evil of Islam, the legal definition of marriage being between a man and a woman, how wrong divorce is, how no-fault divorce is wrong, how gambling is evil, how important tithing is, whether baptism must be by immersion or with less water, and a thousand other matters. But in the end, what message has been sent? No wonder the unchurched have a scrambled view of the Gospel.
We really don’t have much time left. Another generation or two and the population will be overwhelmingly outside of any church context. Listen to Jim Caravelle’s strategy. We have a point to make. It is the story of our need for help, God’s loving response in mercy and the historical fact of the Resurrection of our Lord in order to restore his earth. The rest can wait until everyone has gotten the main point.
It’s the Resurrection, stupid. Stay on the subject.
Christ is risen. Rejoicing is recommended. Sharing the news is an act of love and caring.