This article’s title might cause readers to expect it to be about lives oriented to ward a certain direction on the compass, but it’s not. It is about living in relation to a certain direction, but the compass has nothing to do with that direction. It’s about orienting our lives in the direction of Easter; in the direction of the abundant, eternal life secured for us and revealed to us through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Easter does at least two things for us: it assures us that God has affirmed the identity and authority of Jesus, and it assures us that the promise of resurrection is not an empty one.
Throughout the gospels, people kept raising questions about the identity, authority, and authenticity of Jesus. Could he be trusted? Should he be listened to? Is he someone whose teachings and example are worth following? In the present day, our confidence in Christ is bolstered by the writings of the four gospels and nearly two dozen New Testament epistles; we’ve had access to twenty centuries of Christian proclamation, reflection, worship, and practical experience. Those living in Jesus’ day had none of those resources available. They had to make up their minds based on what they saw and heard personally, or what they were told by friends and neighbors. What made their decision even more difficult was the fact that some of the most trusted leaders of their social and religious culture opposed Jesus and urged people not to believe him or follow him. The reasons for their opposition, though interesting and important, are too complex and varied to cover in detail here. But to offer an overly brief and excessively simplified summary: Jesus’ mission and message felt threatening to many people who held positions of prominence, power, and prosperity in the existing political, social, economic, and religious institutions of his day. In addition to that, even people who were not on the top rungs of the society, economy, and religious community found a certain security and comfort with things remaining the way they had always been. Had large numbers of people embraced his words and his ways, things might have changed in unpredictable ways, with unpredictable consequences for them.
The opponents of Jesus were not necessarily evil or ungodly people; many of them were just skeptical or suspicious of anyone inviting them to think about God, themselves, and other people in new ways. In other words, resistance to the words and the ways Jesus in first century Palestine came largely from people so committed to their accustomed ways of thought, belief, and action that they were unwilling to change the direction of their lives.
That same resistance keeps many people today from changing the direction of their lives. As predicted by Jesus in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) there are people in this world who would not change the direction of their lives (which is what it means to “repent”) even if someone came back from the dead and urged them to do so. That, in fact, has happened: Jesus, who urges us to change the direction of our lives, has come back from the dead. His return convinced many that he was indeed “the real deal,” who speaks and acts with full authority and authenticity, revealing the true mind, heart, message, and methods of God. Resurrection served as his “seal of approval,” endorsement by God, who alone has the power of life and death. Those of us who accept that validation of Jesus’ message and mission can’t resist allowing him to redirect our lives, shaping them to the contours of his words and his ways. It’s more than just a “spiritual” conversion: every aspect of life is re-oriented; every priority reassessed; every relationship reformulated; every commitment of time and energy re-examined. Easterly living changes everything.
Perhaps most important of all, Easterly living is based on a certainty about who we belong to, where we’ve come from, and where we’re headed. Eternity is our home, and the Eternal One is the one we are coming home to. That assurance inspires hope and courage that sustain us in dark and difficult times. It sensitizes us to the profound significance of things we say and do, and to the sacredness of every person we encounter. There’s an intensity and intentionality to Easterly living that’s missing from the lives of people whose lives point in other directions. Easterly living also has a richness of joy, hope, compassion, and peace that mystifies people whose lives are headed elsewhere.
Gary A. Batey, Pastor