One of my very favourite Bible passages is Luke 24:13–35. This is an extended story of two disciples grieving the death of their Lord and teacher, Jesus. As they walk, a stranger walks with them. He listens deeply to their grief and talks with them about Scripture. When he sits down to eat with them and breaks bread, they recognise him as Jesus, risen from the dead! Despite now being dark, they rush back the whole 12 kilometres to Jerusalem to tell the others that they have seen Jesus!
I love what they say to one another, ‘Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened Scripture to us?’ The presence of the risen Jesus had ignited something in them – even before they knew who he was!
The presence of the risen Jesus – the great good news we celebrate at Easter – is the source of our faith and the spring of mission. The 20th-century missionary Lesslie Newbigin wrote that mission is not part of the law (something we have to do) but part of the gospel – part of the good news. He says:
There has been a long tradition which sees the mission of the church primarily as obedience to a command … This way of putting the matter is certainly not without justification, and yet it seems to me that it misses the point. It tends to make mission a burden rather than a joy, to make it part of the law rather than part of the gospel. If one looks at the New Testament evidence one gets another impression. Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact? The mission of the church in the pages of the New Testament is more like the fallout from a vast explosion, a radioactive fallout which is not lethal but life-giving.¹
Jesus is alive! The one who was dead lives again! This is the core of our Christian faith and the essence of mission. Of course, Jesus commissions his disciples to bear witness to this, in each of the gospels and Acts. But it’s the presence and the joy of the risen Jesus that is the true energising power for mission. The presence of the risen Jesus is good news for every part of a person’s life. He speaks peace to the troubled and frightened, comforts the grieving, forgives the guilty, restores those who experience shame and gives hope to the broken-hearted, spiritual life to those who are dead in sin and the promise of resurrection to all who die believing in his life.
Getting beyond guilt
Honestly, I’ve noticed that many of us in the LCA feel a little guilty about mission (or our personal witness) and find it difficult or awkward to talk about our faith or Jesus with friends or family. I think there are several factors involved in this. Our corporate history has not involved many models of mission, witness or evangelism apart from the missionaries who went overseas. We haven’t practised sharing our faith very much. We’ve sensed that we might ‘get something wrong’ in sharing the gospel. And I’ve had parents tell me they’re not qualified to share the gospel with their children.
The good news for us in mission is that Jesus promises to give us the words and the power! He promises to send the Holy Spirit to help his followers to share in his mission. I think our personal mission begins with meditating deeply on the Easter story and the presence of the risen Jesus, understanding how it is good news for us, and then, like the disciples in Emmaus, beginning to tell others.
Easter is an opportunity for mission
Easter and Christmas are two times when non-Christians are most open to the gospel and are most interested in hearing from Christians. Easter is a great time for mission.
A first step might be as simple as responding to someone’s question, ‘What are you planning to do over Easter?’ by sharing how you’re a Christian and looking forward to the church services over the Easter weekend. If your friends show interest, you can invite them to come and experience one of the services with you. After the Easter weekend, you can tell how the services impacted you.
Another simple step in joining in with the joy of God’s mission might be telling people about an answer to a prayer that you’ve seen. Or saying one sentence about what Jesus’ resurrection means for you when you experience the death of a friend or family member. When we walk with the risen Jesus, and our hearts burn within us because of what he opens in our minds and hearts, we can’t help but overflow with this news and tell others.
I hope and pray that Easter is – and will be – the wellspring of mission for you and your local church. Have courage and step into the joy of God in mission. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Jesus, you are alive! You were dead, and now you are alive. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, would you ignite the burning joy of knowing your presence and walking with you in my heart? Like the disciples, would you please let me overflow with the joy and wonder of Easter? Would you give me opportunities to bear witness to you and give me the courage and joy to take those opportunities? Would you please open my mouth to speak your name with my friends and family members? And when I’m a bit scared or anxious, would you please fill me again with your Holy Spirit and give me the right words to say?
Thank you for your resurrection. May it cause an explosion of joy in my life and spread to those around me.
In your name, I pray. Amen.
¹Lesslie Newbigin, ‘The Logic of Mission’ in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, SPCK
Pastor Nathan Hedt is the LCANZ’s Pastor for New and Renewing Churches.