Today is a day of celebration. We celebrate the renewal of life from “winter’s bond and pain.” All the earth is once again made new with the coming of the light and life of springtime. We have enjoyed stunningly beautiful weather lately and – especially here – we can really appreciate that. We know darkness, and when the spring arrives with sunshine and warm breezes and we can shed our many winter layers, we can truly feel reborn.
The Christian tradition brings its own unique story into this time of rebirth - Easter Sunday is when the followers of Jesus discovered his tomb empty and then found that their beloved leader – their longed-for messiah – the hope of liberation and freedom – the Jesus who had been executed on Friday – had risen from the dead.
It is a powerful story, born of human desperation and pain – an amazing hope that arose from a people oppressed by exile and then by Roman occupation. It was a sign of hope so powerful that more than two thousand years later, this story continues to shape our world.
Whether or not we believe that Jesus was literally restored from death to life, the force of this story and the faith of his followers have impacted the lives of nearly every person on this planet.
Perhaps the miracle of this story is, in fact, that the teachings of Jesus ever saw the light of day after his death. They were not popular. His execution testifies to the level of discomfort this man caused among the power elite of his day.
Jesus represented in his life a deep sense of equality and love. His was a profoundly radical message. He spoke of a time when the rich and powerful would be brought low and the meekest of humankind raised up. He shared his table with the outcasts of his society. His people were not the respectable folks, but the outcasts.
The revolutionary messages of Jesus have all too often been ignored. As in every religious movement, the pure and powerful core faith can be buried by those who seek to preserve and strengthen the tradition as their all-too-human impulses toward power and security begin to occupy their hearts and minds.
And yet, to the extent that Jesus’ radical message of social justice and love survives, we can look back to the resurrection story as the beginning of a new day for the world – inspiring many great men and women throughout the world.
Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was one of those. We heard his words earlier: “We are prophets of a future not our own.” Romero’s words were indeed accurate for his own fate - he was later assassinated for his work against the corrupt, dictatorial government of El Salvador.
Romero was a modern day prophet. We may think of prophets as those who foretell the future, but that is not the central part of their role in society. It is not foretelling, but rather truth-telling that is the mark of the prophet.
The ancient Hebrew prophets were men and women who spoke truth to power – who condemned the wealthy elite for their luxury while injustice and poverty existed just beyond their palatial homes.
They were like the prophet Amos, who rebuked his own people as they went through the motions of their religious observances. Speaking for God he roared:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals, I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos was delivering a message to people who had found a way to take advantage of the system – people who prospered at the expense of others – who feasted while others had nothing. And all the while they continued to follow the forms of their religion – the fasts and feasts and songs and prayers, without ever living the truer and far more difficult demands of their own faith that called them to do justice and to love their neighbor.
Amos stood before them and derided their insincerity. He called upon them to give up their privilege in favour of equality.
Amos never won any popularity contests.
In his time, he was reviled by the wealthy and the powerful. Prophets are at best ignored and at worst destroyed by the people they attempt to change. It is only the downtrodden powerless who appreciate their message in their own time and only with the passage of centuries are their words accepted by the authorities – when these messages have lost their immediacy and have begun to feel “safe” and unchallenging.
Even today, you will find the term “social justice” – the very message and legacy of the prophets – derided and reviled by conservatives, who call it a smoke screen for communism.
Jesus was a prophet. Here’s how he addressed the rich:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…go, sell what you have, and give to the poor."
“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
“Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. "Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep”
Did prophecy come to an end with Jesus? Not at all.
Think of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose message was deeply resented by the powerful white majority in America.
Think of Nelson Mandela
Think of Emmeline Pankhurst
Think of Mary Wollstonecraft
Think of so many others of the past few centuries whose prophetic messages we – with the benefit of hindsight – have come to understand and appreciate: those who spoke out for the rights of women, for gays and lesbians, for the disabled, for the millions crushed under tyrannical rule…
Where are today’s prophets?
Oh, they are there. They may even be here!
The prophets of any era are not where we will see them easily. Don’t look among the powerful and the wealthy. Don’t look among those who hold cabinet posts or elected office. Don’t look among those who control the media.
The place to look is where there is trouble and discontent. Find someone ignored by the powerful and loved by the oppressed. Find someone with a deeply unpopular message who insists on speaking out despite overwhelming opposition. There you may find today’s prophets.
Professor Katsuhiko is an example from today’s news. Who would listen to his warnings about the dangers of Japan’s nuclear power plants before now?
We did not know the name Katsuhiko before and we may well not know the names of other prophets working in our world today.
We cannot know the truth of their prophetic call in our own time. At one time, it seemed completely obvious to the vast majority of people that homosexuals are dangerous perverts. Prophetic witness to the contrary was a small voice against the overwhelming crowd.
What are today’s prophets saying? Perhaps they are crying out for the rights of animals. Perhaps they are the now deeply unpopular communists of our day. Maybe you can find them in the rain forests using their bodies to block the rampant destruction there or against all the special interests, promoting alternative power sources or local farming.
In the future, our descendents will look back and wonder why the prophetic messages being spoken today were not entirely obvious to us – why we failed to heed their call.
And so, it is up to us to search. It is up to us to look beyond the scorn and contempt heaped upon the prophets to find the deep truth of their message.
It is in this way that we participate with the goodness, generosity, and sacredness of life to continually remake the world. We look toward a day when we can truly say
“Lo, the earth awakes again. Alleluia!”