A Resurrection Religion

1 Corinthians 15:51-56

I drove my jeep out of the empty camp and onto the main road that led into the city of Da Nang, South Vietnam. I happily anticipated the events of the day with Seabees, who comprised the scattered 800-man battalion I served as a Navy chaplain, coming together to celebrate Easter.

The sun had already risen over the South China Sea, and the temperature promised to soar above 100 degrees. The hot road was unpaved.

Halfway between my camp and Da Nang, I saw her—a small Vietnamese woman kneeling at the side of the road. As I drew closer I could see that she was convulsed with sobbing. Her head rested on a little red wooden box.

I pulled the jeep off the road, stopped and walked toward her. Wanting to help but not knowing how, I knelt beside her. “Can I help you?” I asked. She turned her tear-streaked face toward me, and noticing the cross on my lapel, she lifted the lid of the box and invited me to look inside. There lay the body of a small child.

Exercising my sparse knowledge of Vietnamese, I discovered that she was trying to make her way to her ancestral village where her child would be entombed. But the day was too hot, and the box too heavy for her. I was glad when she accepted my offer of help. After overseeing my placing of the box on the jeep’s back seat, she climbed into the vehicle and directed me to the tomb where the body of her child would rest beside her ancestors.

While I had witnessed the horror of violent death before and would again, no experience during my tour of duty was sadder than that. It was a moment of death, defeat and utter sadness.

During that same tour of duty, a Roman Catholic priest and fellow chaplain joined me in conducting an Easter sunrise service for our Seabees and Marines who had slogged across the rice paddies to join us for worship. Following the celebration of Mass, I led the group in singing songs of Easter and preaching its message of the empty tomb.

I am still gripped by the contrast between the Vietnamese woman who grieved for her dead child and that of the servicemen who celebrated the risen Lord. The first experience was one of death and defeat, the second, of life and victory. “Christianity,” writes John Stott, “is in its very essence a resurrection religion.” Resurrection—Christ’s and, through Him, our own—is the living center of Christian faith. Having made that discovery, we may leave death and defeat, and embrace eternal life and victory.

Kenneth L. Hodder, The War Cry

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