I was once asked a trick question in a Bible course I took years ago: what is the first event in the Hebrew scriptures? The creation story, I thought. Nope, said the instructor. It was the Exodus -- because the dramatic story of the journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land was the first event that was remembered by the Jewish people. Were it not for God's deliverance, everything that happened beforehand would have been forgotten or lost.
The second trick question immediately followed the first: what was the first event in the New Testament? The birth narrative, we answered. No again, he said. It was the Easter story, because the event of the Resurrection framed everything else that was written or remembered.
The origins of the Christian movement began with Jesus' public ministry in Galilee and took greater shape with his challenge of the dominant political and religious authorities in Jerusalem. But the power of who he was and what he gave to the world was not fully realized until Jesus was brought back -- miraculously and mysteriously, to life from death. The Resurrection created the movement -- it transformed hearts and redirected lives. With the Resurrection, the twelve dolts who had been chosen to be the charter disciples for the movement, were changed -- almost as miraculously and mysteriously, into competent and committed witnesses. Their faith in the living Christ moved the movement forward -- often at great risk to themselves, by bringing others into the community of hope and joy; and training them to be witnesses as well.
We are inheritors of that movement -- a movement of new life; a movement that is committed to the belief that the power of love not only survives the power of violence, but triumphs over it. Jesus made sure of that.
We are also inheritors of the institution that has been set up to foster the movement -- and to preserve it. The institution is the Church -- that "wonderful and sacred mystery" as expressed in my favorite Prayer Book Collect that is said at the Easter Vigil. Yet if an institution is left to its own devices, its goal will be to preserve itself, even at the expense of the movement that built it. At least six times St. Paul issues a warning of the dangers of the "principalities and powers". Christian history is filled with tragic evidence of the Church engaging in violence for the ostensible purpose of fostering the movement, but closer inspection reveals that there was a stronger commitment to preserving the institution.
We need for the movement and the institution to live in creative tension with each other. The institution of the church is the vessel that fosters the movement by proclaiming the story of new life in the scriptures and enfleshing new life in the sacraments. The institution of the church is designed to rekindle the fire of the Christian movement -- so that the people in the institution will feel committed and competent to carry forth the movement into the world.
The Resurrection is our beginning -- as a movement and as an institution. The Resurrection comes first -- and it comes again and again, moving the movement and transforming the institution.
Let it be so. Happy Easter.