April 7, 2009
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
Grace and peace to each of you as we approach the holiest time of the Christian year. Easter is celebrated in the Western tradition on April 12, and Pascha in the Orthodox tradition on April 19.
As we reflect on our Lord's passion and crucifixion, we are reminded that so many of God's children are burdened by suffering. The 17th century mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal, whose faith was tempered by chronic physical pain, wrote that in the history of this tortured world, every day is Good Friday.
In our own century, the litany of pain gets longer every day. Women and girls in the Congo are raped and murdered daily by men who wish to display their power. Myanmar has been described as the world's largest concentration camp. Genocidal death squads roam with impunity in Darfur. Innocent civilians are trapped in the murderous crossfire in Sri Lanka. The death rate in Afghanistan continues to rise and insurgent forces are still responsible for scores of murders in Iraq. In central Italy, scores are dead and thousands are homeless as a result of a devastating earthquake near L'Aquila and other towns.
Closer to home, the American appetite for illegal drugs has sparked deadly skirmishes between authorities and drug dealers along the Mexican-U.S. border. The threat of terrorist attacks has not abated. In cities and villages throughout the United States, unemployment lines are growing, tens of thousands have lost their homes and pensions and millions ponder the future with fear and uncertainty. Many of the member communions of the National Council of Churches have been forced to cut programs and dedicated staff. In our meditations, we hear the agony in our Lord's cry: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). And our own hearts search for assurance that God has not abandoned us.
The joy of Easter is precisely that assurance, and it comes to each of us the very moment we connect to the reality of the most dramatic two-word dialogue in world history, the exchange between the risen Lord and a terrified woman. "Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbouni!"
Easter is the feast day of our own transformation as we turn to encounter the resurrected Christ. Easter marks the day God reached into our lives and defeated that which we fear most: death. Easter is God's assurance that no matter how bad the world may be, it is not God's final word.
That, of course, doesn't make it easy to face the horrors of the world. Fear is not so easily banished, and it may even have a legitimate role in human life. It can move us to marshal our resources in the face of crisis, to act on behalf of neighbors who are threatened (and there are real threats in this sinful world). But fear can also turn neighbor against neighbor and friends to enemies. God's power over death helps us set that fear aside and enables us to accept God's call to be the instruments of intervention in the anguish of the world.
Our most prayerful message to you at Easter is this: the God of hope is calling us again to love one another, to uphold one another, to bear each other's burdens, and to cast out the fear that leads to destruction. This Easter let us renew our commitment to bring the gospel to bear on the underlying fearfulness of our world. Let us offer a witness, rooted in our faith, that engenders hope for a different approach to common life.
Remember I John: "We love because God first loved us." It is the best possible reminder that self-centeredness is the root of fear. If our well-being is gained at the expense of others, we will live anxiously. If our security is based on treating others as enemies, then we will live anxiously. And if our focus is on the survival of "our church" rather than on the one body of Christ and our common witness to God's coming reign, then we will live anxiously.
Our calling as a community of Christians is to point beyond ourselves to the One whose love casts out fear, and to demonstrate that love by living it with one another.
The Lord is Risen! He is risen indeed.
H.E. Vicken Aykazian, President
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary