The Provost spoke the traditional words, “Christ is risen!” and the hundreds of students responded in full voice, “He is risen indeed!” It was the Thursday chapel before Easter—just before the students left for home to attend Good Friday services. I was in Nigeria at the Gindiri Theological Seminary—both far from home but still at home.
Easter remembrances among Christians, worldwide, point to the power of the resurrection to change lives. Until Jesus defeated death humanity had no real answer to questions about “what comes next? Is there life after death?”
Yes, indeed, because Christ is, indeed, risen. And so are all who are his. While we aren’t yet with him—alive forever with resurrected bodies—that will come soon enough.
Easter also reminds us that Adam’s decision to dismiss God’s warning not to eat the forbidden fruit—with death as its immediate fruit—continues to carry its shattering impact into the world. Yet because of Easter we don’t despair.
When Easter Sunday came I attended the Headquarters Church of the Church of Christ in Nigeria—COCIN—located in Jos. This time more than a thousand voices answered the pastor’s call, “He is risen indeed!”
Why this trip to Nigeria?
I had been invited, along with a friend, to provide a lectureship at Gindiri. That was reason enough for the trip, but I had a second motive in play. Soja Bewarang, a seminary classmate and friend from the early 80’s, once pastored this church. I hadn’t seen him since ’82 and he still lives in Jos—so a reunion was in order.
On the Saturday before Easter he and his wife, Mercy, hosted Rick and me. And to our delight he included three other former seminary classmates at the luncheon. It was a feast of friendships! And it gave me a chance to ask some questions.
I asked him, for one, about his time as the COCIN pastor. In 2001 Jos was featured in the worldwide news. Islamic radicals launched a set of deadly attacks on Christians. Many Christians retaliated and hundreds—perhaps thousands—died in the upheavals that followed.
Soja told us of a moment in those tragic days when some of the church members who were guarding the church from the radicals approached him. They had captured one of the Islamic radicals on the property.
“Shall we kill him?!” they asked Soja.
He immediately vetoed the idea. “No, just put him in a secure place and feed him. Then tonight, after things settle down, we’ll send him back to his people.” And they did just that.
What came next was remarkable. The man, once he was released and able to return to his side of the embattled city discovered that his own people also had a captive they were planning to kill—but in this case it was a Christian. He immediately insisted that his life must be spared.
“The Christians spared my life. So we must spare this Christian’s life.” He was able to convince his companions to set the Christian free and the man was soon back at the church telling his own story of survival.
As I thought about Easter Soja’s story was a notable example of how life in Christ is always giving, not taking. His immediate impulse to spare the life of the Islamic radical was a mercy that bred mercy. In a country where death was everywhere at the time. Yet Soja was among those who could and would say, “Christ is risen.” And he displayed what a heart, now risen in Christ, is ready to do to quench the power of death. He offered Christ’s own mercy. And God used that mercy to save a life.
Our reunion was a real encouragement. And it made me look forward to our greater reunion yet to come, when death is swallowed up by life. Thank God for Easter—for God’s mercy in Christ. And we all need it, don’t we! Wherever we happen to live.