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Why ‘Being Christian Without the Church’ Fails the Good Friday Test

According to the gospel of John, the cross casts us into community.

We Americans tend to be a sentimental people. This makes it difficult for us to look directly into the horror, shame, and degradation of a death by crucifixion. When Jesus says to Mary, “Woman, behold thy son” and to John “Behold thy Mother,” we often interpret this saying of our Lord as a sentimental invitation to take good care of your mother. I am a mother, and I definitely want to be taken care of! But this is not what the Fourth Evangelist, John, wants us to understand. In the Fourth Gospel, the mother of our Lord plays a quite different role.

In the side aisle of the chapel where I often worship, there’s a beautiful, unusual altarpiece. It depicts one of John’s memorable stories, the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus says to his mother, “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour is not yet come” (John 2:4, RSV throughout). In English, this sounds very rude. In Greek it is more respectful, but we notice that Jesus does not call her “Mother,” and she responds to him not as his mother but as one of his followers—one who is beginning to have a glimmer of an idea about who he is.

She says to the servant, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). She is learning to be his disciple. That’s what Mary represents in the Gospel of John. She does not appear again in the Fourth Gospel—except in passing and in company with others—until his hour actually does come and he is crucified. From the cross, once again Jesus calls her “woman” rather than “Mother.” Her identity as Jesus’ mother is not important to John.

In John’s gospel, Mary stands out as a particularly faithful disciple, one who follows Jesus through ...

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Love That Will Not Let Go

Mary Magdalene both clung to the risen Christ and went out to bear witness.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me … Go instead to my brothers and tell them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”—John 20:16–17

The Resurrection is an unprecedented event in history. In the words of C. S. Lewis, it is a miracle of the New Creation. Something of which the world has had no previous experience at all has entered the old order and radically altered it. The great reversal has begun. The new wine has burst the old wineskins. Even familiar relations with Jesus in the old creation no longer suffice. Now, it seems he can only be recognized by those to whom he chooses to reveal himself.

The story of the Resurrection is also the story of human love at its best. When all else fails—even faith and hope—love comes through intact. It may be weak in comparison to divine love, but it is strong enough to move the heart of the Lover. Such is the love of Mary Magdalene.

What makes Mary’s devotion to Jesus unique may have begun early in his ministry when he cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:1–3). Mary had known the terrifying power of spiritual enslavement and the exhilarating freedom of following Christ her teacher. Here was a Rabbi who treated women very differently. From that day, her admiration and love grew.

Mary followed Jesus to Jerusalem. When all the other disciples fled (Mark 14:50), she stood in solidarity with other women to witness his agonizing death on the cross (Matt. 27:55). Love refuses to be cowed. Love perseveres when hope is extinguished. Mary witnessed Jesus’ ...

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Arab Spring Again? Christians in Sudan and Algeria Cheer Regime Changes

Historic confessions escape an Islamist, while Muslim converts pray for reform.

One of the early iconic martyrs of Sudan’s recent protests was inspired by Christian oppression.

Shot dead by police while aiding protestors against the regime of 30-year dictator Omar al-Bashir, Babiker Salama—a 27-year-old doctor from an exclusive Khartoum suburb—was motivated in part by what he witnessed in the mountain region populated by one of Sudan’s few Christian communities.

“We were not like the people in need,” his sister toldThe New York Times in January. “We had nothing to do with politics.”

Salama was sent by the military for a three-month stay. After performing emergency C-sections by the light of his cell phone, he volunteered to stay three months longer until a replacement could come.

The same military has now replaced Bashir, whose crimes include indiscriminate bombing in the Nuba Mountains.

And among the thousands who protested outside military headquarters demanding his overthrow were Sudanese Christians, from the mountainous community.

Open Doors ranks Sudan No. 6 on its list of nations where it is hardest to be a Christian, and in the top 10 since 2015.

Sudanese Coptic Orthodox Christians were also witnessed in revolt.

“It has a human and emotional impact and it draws a patriotic image Sudanese people long missed,” political analyst Faisal Salih toldTheGuardian.

“Most importantly it shows a transformation in the position of the Coptics … who avoided getting involved in politics, except for a few of them.”

The Sudanese Copts set up shelters for Muslim prayer, recalling images of cooperation from the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt.

It is difficult from media analysis to judge whether or not Sudanese Christians—4.6 percent of the population, ...

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Easter Joy Belongs to the Melancholy

The celebration of Christ’s resurrection stands in contrast to Christmas joy.

Easter joy has been harder to come by this year. Between the growing ugliness of American politics and the acrimony within the church body, I’ve found it harder to anticipate looking up from the broken body of my Lord to rejoice this Sunday in the resurrected and ascended Christ.

When I shared my struggle with a good friend, he suggested I revisit a collection of sermons that the 19th-century priest John Henry Newman preached in Oxford in response to the challenges of his own day. After turning to Newman, I found a surprising insight: In his view, my tempered joy is not merely acceptable or tolerable but rather called for as a deeply Christian response to Easter.

In a sermon titled “Keeping Fast and Festival,” Newman begins with a comparison of Christmas and Easter. At Christmas, he says, we rejoice with the “natural, unmixed joy of children.” Easter joy, however, is not the same. This joy is experienced as “a last feeling and not a first.” It grows out of tribulation, as Paul writes in Romans 5, emerges from the harvest (Isa. 9:3), and comes after (and out of) Lent and Good Friday.

In other words, if living through Lent teaches us even a little about how Christ bears the world’s suffering, then our Easter enthusiasm should look different from our response to God’s arrival as a baby at Christmas. It should feel more seasoned, more aged, and more worn. Easter joy isn’t the joy of children, says Newman, but rather of convalescents who have received the promise of healing, who are starting to get well but still regaining our strength after a Lenten season of confronting our weakness and sorrowing over our sin.

Newman’s image of Christians as convalescents brings ...

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