The Rev. Renee U. Garrett, my colleague pastor and teacher for 26 years, was mentored in Christian ministry by the Rev. James Glasser of the Dane Street Congregational Church, Beverly, Massachusetts. The Garretts and the Glassers remained lifetime friends. Renee has spoken much of her friend and mentor. Here’s one story he told her.
Jim Glasser was a chaplain with the Marine Corps in World War II in the Pacific Theater. Though he never carried a weapon, he was with the Marines in some of the war’s deadliest and bloodiest battles.
When the war in the Pacific ended, Jim found himself still with the Marines on Guam, awaiting transport back to the United States. To aid morale, Chaplain Glasser decided to clear an area so the men could play baseball. With machete in hand, he set to work swinging and slashing. “I must have looked pretty fierce with that machete,” he would later say, because three armed Japanese soldiers came out of the jungle and surrendered to him! He collected their arms and, still carrying the machete, marched them back to headquarters.
Although the war was over, these three soldiers, loyal to the Emperor of Japan and bound by a strict code of honor, had held out as long as they could. They were not alone. Around the time Glasser received the surrender of the three Japanese, three Marines were shot and killed by other Japanese hiding in the Guam jungle. Those three Marines were dead though the war was over. It was serious business. Many of the Emperor’s loyal troops held out for months, years, even decades. One group of ten men on Guam hid together. Eventually, time, sickness and hunger took their toll. Seven of the men drifted away and gave up. The three remaining kept in touch from jungle hideouts until 1964, when two died (from starvation or maybe in floods). The last, Shoichi Yoikoi, who had known the war was over since 1952, out of fear, attacked two fishermen who subdued him and brought him to the authorities. The year was 1972, 26 years after the war’s end.
The war was over! But there were those who preferred the jungle and caves. When some of these survivors came out of the jungle, the reality struck them. The war was over. The Americans had gone home! By the time these gave up, the surviving Americans has gone back to school, gotten jobs, raised families and, as stragglers emerged from the jungles of various Pacific atolls, many old Marines were sitting on some veranda somewhere sipping fresh squeezed orange juice.
The war had been over for years, even decades.
That is the message of Easter. The war is over! Even death is vanquished! But, even now, there are many who haven’t heard. Or, if they have heard, they don’t believe it. Of if they’ve heard and believe it, they still prefer the jungle.
If the war is over, they say, why do we still feel under attack? If the war is over, why am I still afraid? Why am I—and everyone else—so angry? Why is there ethnic cleansing? Bombs in Brussels? If the war is over, why did my daughter die of cancer? What about my son’s overdose? Why do I have to die?
The war is over, but so many of us—even in churches—have not made peace with God. Like those Japanese soldiers, we remain loyal to the gods we do know—money, sex, and power (just to name three). These gods have promised us much. They are hard gods to serve and have demanded much of us. How can we give up on them? And how do you make peace with an enemy as powerful as the one true God, the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Won’t that god be even more terrible than our chosen gods?
Some of us aren’t clear about the gods we have come to serve. We think we are loyal because we really love those gods we worship. We don’t even know we are enemies of Almighty God. Some have never even heard of him. It’s easy to think the jungle is the “real world.” It’s hard to imagine a peaceful life beyond the jungle. The jungle is all there is. We make the best of it.
Yet, Christ, the Victor over Death, knows us, cares for us, looks for us, even actively seeks us. He not only knows where we are, he knows who we are. He loves us—enough to die for us. The one we need, the one who calls us out of the jungle, is the one to whom we must surrender. But he doesn’t even carry a machete! He will not force us, but he will receive us. God comes for us in person. So Paul affirms:
“Christ arrives right on time . . . He . . . doesn’t wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for [his] sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way.” Romans 5:6-9 [The Message]
God’s not on a search and destroy mission. God doesn't kill your family or take away your toys to get your attention. God has taken the entire wrath of all evil upon himself in the form of his eternal Son. So, he has saved us from his wrath completely. We just need to trust and to accept his gift.
If Christ has reconciled me to God, why do I still feel estranged? Because, though God knows you, who you are, and where you are, and has reached out to you, you must still give up your loyalty to the old emperor, those other gods, you worship and serve. You must surrender. It is just a formality, but it is necessary nonetheless. Paul explains it:
“So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
“And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk. Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete.” Colossians 3:1-10 [The Message]
If you want peace with God, you really must put off the old ways. You need a new uniform that reflects the new peace, the new life outside the jungle. You must give up old behaviors for good (in both senses of that word). You now live conforming to God's truth and God's authority—which we call “new life in Christ.” This is not the pick and choose morality of today. It cuts no slack: God is God and if you are at peace with God you will strive to be Godly—to act in ways that please God.
The old army has good quartermasters. You will get enough of whatever you desire to keep you fighting within yourself and against God. If money will keep you at war with God, you’ll get just enough (though, of course, you will always want more). If it is trouble and pain you need to keep you at war with God, you will get enough of those, too. Those are among the weapons with which your old emperor controls you, the very weapons that keep you at war.
If you want peace with God, if you want to change toward God's standards, you need a community in which to practice new life. That is the church. You don't surrender to the church; you surrender only to Jesus; but you need the church to practice your new life with God. (In a mysterious way, the church is Jesus—his body—but that’s another blog for another day!)
You need the church because you can't think your way into a new way of acting nearly as well as you might act your way into a new way of thinking. Jesus may come to you when you're alone, but he doesn't promise that. He only promises that where two or three gather, he will come there. You need to practice with others who are practicing.
In accepting the new uniform, you put on Christ. He will help you—help us all—see beyond the terrors of the moment or the hauntings of the past. He gives us new life, life eternal, which does not begin after we’re dead. It begins right now. He proclaims, “The war is over.”
Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Thanks be to God!