|Keeton Bigham-Tsai with a Chinook (King) Salmon caught while fly fishing on the Pere Marquette River. Photo by Ian Dwyer.
“He is not here; for he has been raised,” Matthew 28: 6a
Our eldest son Keeton loves to fish. He has loved fishing since he was three years old and spending hours with his Winnie-the-Pooh rod at a local pond. Keeton has gone on to more adult fishing pursuits. Fly-fishing is now his favorite past-time; he has fished many of the major rivers of Michigan. He recently talked to me about fly fishing for salmon on the Pere Marquette.
Keeton explained that freshwater salmon in Michigan are born in the rivers but spend most of their lives in the big lakes. When it is time for them to reproduce, they make their way back to the rivers in which they were born. They mate in those rivers, then make the long trek upstream to their spawning grounds. The Pere Marquette is the longest river without a dam in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and makes an arduous trek for the salmon.
Though they start out healthy, the journey upriver depletes them. Eventually, they become so worn that their skin becomes soggy and sloughs off. They become like zombie fish, Keeton says. And shortly after releasing and fertilizing their eggs, they die. But a single salmon can drop thousands of eggs before its death and so start the cycle of life again.
This cycle—from life, to death, to new life—is not just a cycle played out on the rivers. It also is the cycle played out in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is a cycle that is central to our understanding of what God has done for us in Jesus.
Scripture reminds us that we were dead because of our sin and brokenness, (Ephesians 2:1). Yet God sent a savior, a Messiah, who according to the prophet Isaiah, “…has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed,”
Isaiah 53: 4-5.
In Jesus, God took on the suffering and sin of the world. Pandemics, violence and war—every atrocity and tragedy in history. God took it all on, then healed and redeemed it in Christ.
This is what Jesus’ long walk to the cross was about. He wore the injustice of the cross and the sins of the world in the wounds of his crucifixion. He shed his life to bring about new life for us, or, as the Apostle Paul writes, “…so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life,”
Our newness of life depends upon the reality of Christ’s resurrection. That is the crux of the stories we rehearse at Easter. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. But death was not the end. An angel rolled back the stone. The crucified Christ rose from the dead. From death came resurrected life and the assurance of life everlasting.
Now back to the salmon. The death run of these fish doesn’t just create eggs and baby fish. As the salmon make their long run up the river, they shed their skin along the way. As they do that, they also nourish the whole ecosystem, literally with the detritus of their bodies. As they shed their lives and die, they feed life all along the river.
This makes for a useful metaphor for the death and resurrection of Christ and the eventual spread of the Gospel message. Jesus shed his life for our lives. After his resurrection, he commissioned the disciples to lay down their lives for him and to be his witnesses through Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, (Acts 1:8). They eventually scattered over all those regions and beyond. But as they scattered, the message of Jesus’ resurrection spread. And what started out as a little band of disciples became a movement that would span geography and generations.
These disciples and the spread of their witness was like the shedding of spiritual nutrients around the world. And that points to the irony of it all: Jesus’ ministry created 12 disciples and a lot of crowds, but his death and resurrection produced the Church.
So, when we shout this Easter, “He Lives!” let us realize and know that he lives in and through us, his Church. We are his offspring, the scattering of his life and witness along the rivers of history. We are the nutrients of the whole ecosystem of life in Christ.
And how do we bring the nutrients of new life in Christ to the world? We tell people the simple story. God so loved the world that God sent God’s son. Christ so loved all of humanity that he went to the cross on our behalf. But he did not just go to the cross and die. He rose from the dead. See, the angel has rolled back the stone! And, because Christ lives, we live. Because we live and witness to his love, others can live through him.
Have a Blessed Easter!