My middle school years marked the heyday of the What Would Jesus Do era. WWJD made its way onto license plates, t-shirts, and of course, bracelets. No self-respecting Manheim Township Middle School 7th grader who considered themselves a Christian was without a WWJD bracelet in every color that the Provident Bookstore had to offer. Later in life, I was surprised to learn that those bracelets that were all the rage in the early 90s come from a theology that is based on a novel written in 1896 that sought to teach Christian Socialism and the Social Gospel. Lost somewhere in the hype of being seen as properly Christian by wearing the right bracelet was the reality that What Would Jesus Do? is a shockingly countercultural question.
In the last few days, we’ve been reminded of what Jesus would do. He would eat dinner with sinners and tax collectors. He would turn the tables in the Temple and call to account a system of religion that was built upon on the backs of the faithful poor. He would stand up against the challenges of the Pharisees and Scribes, unafraid that it might cost him his reputation. He would challenge his followers to love one another. He would get down on his hands and knees and wash their feet. He would willingly be betrayed and handed over to be mocked, scourged, beaten, and ultimately killed in the name of love. And on this night, we are brought to mind, yet again, that Jesus would rise from the dead and in so doing defeat death forever.
As the Exsultet that Deacon Kellie sang so beautifully says so eloquently, “this is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.” That’s what Jesus would do. That’s what Jesus did do. And so, we gather on this most holy night to recall the events of salvation history throughout time. We remember the covenant that God made with all of creation after the flood, that by the sign of the rainbow we would be reminded of God’s promise to bring us back into relationship by another way. We remember the Exodus, and how on the banks of the Red Sea, God opened the waters so that God’s chosen people might begin their journey to the Promised Land. We remember the testimony of the prophet Isaiah, and how every time a prophet proclaimed God’s judgement upon the people, it was followed by the promise of restoration and renewal. We remember the vision of Zephaniah and the assurance that one day all people will be drawn into the loving embrace of God’s forgiveness.
This night isn’t simply about the events of the past, however. If tonight was only about things that had already happened, we’d be stuck looking for the living among the dead. No, what we are about on this night is what comes next. Our question isn’t just “What did Jesus do?”, but “What would Jesus do in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2019?” So, on a night in which we recall the various ways in which God has called us back into right relationship, it is also especially appropriate that we baptize new members into the household of God. Through water and the Holy Spirit, we welcome two Avas into the ongoing story of God’s salvation history. Alongside them, and with their sponsors, we recommit ourselves to what it means to follow the resurrected Jesus in world today, and we promise to seek God’s help as we work to take our place in the resurrected life.
It is interesting to me that both of our newly baptized members are named Ava. Ava is a variant on the first name ever given, Eve, which is likely familiar to most of us. Eve was the wife of Adam. His name, Adam, wasn’t really a name, but is simply the generic word for humankind. It is based on the world for dirt, from which God made humanity. Eve, on the other hand, is the Hebrew word for life. It seems particularly appropriate tonight, as we seek to encounter the resurrected Jesus alongside the two Avas, that we might reframe that age-old question. Not, what would Jesus do, but maybe tonight we ponder, what would Eve do? What would these Avas have us do? How will we live life differently as a result of the promises that we’ve made with them? What brings life, true life, eternal life, the resurrected life into the world? On this night in which we celebrate that Jesus Christ is risen, still, from the dead, to what kind of life does the resurrection call us? Let’s not be about looking for the living among the dead, but rather, let’s be about looking for stories of the resurrection life among those who are living it. So, while what would Jesus do is an important question to ask, this Easter, I invite you to carry with you our two Avas and instead ask, ‘What would Ava, life, real, abundant, resurrection life, have me do? Amen.