By Titus Presler
“I have seen the Lord!” exclaimed Mary Magdalene to Jesus’ disciples in John’s account of the resurrection.
When the two disciples who Luke says met Jesus on the road to Emmaus returned to Jerusalem, the eleven disciples there announced to them, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
Encounter and announcement – that’s the Easter sequence over and over again. The encounter is followed by news of the encounter, just as news follows any significant event in life. The birth of a child, a marriage, a new job, a residential move – when any of these events happens we want to tell people about it. We make an announcement. We share the news. We tell the story.
Jesus himself was a news announcer as he proclaimed the in-breaking realm of God in human history. He elaborated that news with parables and teachings, and he embodied that news as he reached out with compassion, healing and justice. Yet it’s hard to know whether that proclamation alone, redemptive as it was, would have galvanized a lasting movement, especially as Jesus the proclaimer ended up shamed, abused and crucified.
The astounding event of the resurrection authenticated Jesus’ message, signaled God’s victory over death, and consummated God’s reconciliation with humanity.
The astounding event of the resurrection authenticated Jesus’ message, signaled God’s victory over death, and consummated God’s reconciliation with humanity. Jesus’ followers couldn’t help but share the news, celebrate the news, proclaim the news.
And so Easter became the foundational event for the 2000-year-old Jesus movement of which we are a part. News of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead catalyzed people into relationship with God through Christ over all boundaries of geography, ethnicity, language and nationality. It was the event that resulted in Christianity being the world’s most populous religious movement today.
In other words, Easter is the foundation of Christian evangelism. All evangelism is, at root, Easter evangelism.
Evangelism, according to The Episcopal Church, is “the spiritual practice of seeking, naming and celebrating Jesus’ loving presence in everyone’s stories, and then inviting them to more.” There is no Jesus, and certainly no loving presence of Jesus, without the resurrection. It is only through the resurrection that we can speak of Jesus in the present tense, or talk about a relationship with Jesus in the present tense.
The word evangelism comes from the work “euangelion” in the Greek of the New Testament. The prefix “eu” means good, and the rest of the word comes from the Greek verb “angello”, which means to announce. So “euangelion”, usually translated as gospel, literally means a good announcement, good news. So evangelism is “good news-ism,” the habit of announcing good news.
This Easter we’ve all exulted in the liturgical exclamations, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
How about we take those exclamations beyond our liturgies inside the church to our interactions outside the church during these 50 days of Eastertide? How about making that a habit? Consider actually greeting someone in the street with the words, “Christ is risen!” Or, if that seems too brash, consider simply greeting someone with “Happy Easter!”
I’ve done this a good deal in Easter Week, and I’ve been encouraged by the responses. Saying “Happy Easter” to a cashier in a farm store in Enosburg elicited a smile of shared experience and a “Happy Easter to you” in return. Saying “Christ is risen” to someone I met on a sidewalk in Virginia opened up a conversation about his spiritual life. Talking about Easter with the bike shop volunteer who was fixing my bicycle led to a conversation about his history in church – The Episcopal Church as it turned out!
Our predictions that we will offend people or be perceived as pushy are mostly projections of our own anxieties. People are actually interested. Interested in what? Interested in reference points for meaning and spirituality in life beyond daily tasks and the current cultural controversies and political tangles, absorbing as those are for all of us.
People are actually interested in reference points for meaning and spirituality in life beyond daily tasks and the current cultural controversies and political tangles.
Another avenue is to pick up on are the signs of spiritual connection that people themselves set up. When someone’s wearing a crucifix, commenting on it often opens up a conversation about faith and church community. Looking for a watchband led me to a tiny watch repair shop in University Mall in Burlington. The proprietor has a crucifix and an image of Mary on the wall of the shop. My commenting on that led us into a memorable conversation about faith as he fitted the right watchband to my timepiece.
Horizon – that’s an image I find helpful in articulating what we’re inviting people to in evangelism: a horizon of meaning and spirituality. Said Bishop Griselda Delagado of Cuba recently at the Global Mission Conference in the Dominican Republic: “The gospel is the news of knowing that each human being has a dimension inside of themselves that they cannot fulfill without God – the presence of God and the strength of the Holy Spirit. The gospel is the horizon, the space where we are transformed fully.”
“The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” That’s the Easter evangelism at the heart of all evangelism.
The Rev. Titus Presler, Th.D., is vicar of St. Matthew’s Church in Enosburg and convener of Green Mountain Witness, the evangelism initiative of the Diocese of Vermont.
Learn more about Episcopal evangelism and read the Spread the Word series online at https://diovermont.org/green-mountain-witness/