‘LISTEN: Nuclear weapons don’t prevent war. What they do is create risks that any conflict can escalate into a nuclear one — by mistake, miscalculation, or madness. Disarmament isn’t a utopian quest. It’s about getting these things off the board before the next crisis erupts.’ So runs a tweet that is doing the rounds right now.
Hold on to this stark warning as you wait with the terrified disciples in the upper room shortly after they have been told of Christ’s rising from the dead. It is not clear at first whether they are more afraid of seeing a ghost or of the reality of the truth itself.
I say bring the nuclear weapons threat into that room because I think fear is essentially the same anarchic (in terms of its consequences) emotion, wherever you experience it and irrespective of its immediate cause.
The best way to deal with fear is to ground it in reality, in common sense. In the case of the risen Christ, the doubting disciple is invited to touch him, to place his hand on Christ’s risen body – and it is a body. It is a reality. When it becomes clear to him that what he is seeing and touching is a reality which is beyond all of their wildest hopes, his instinct is to worship, while the others are filled with joy. Not happiness, but a deep, confident joy. This is what Easter is about. Worship and joy.
Now go back to the stark warning in regard to nuclear weapons. Unlike the Resurrection, which needed to be willed or effected by God himself, and no one else, for it to happen, weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, chemical or anything else the human race is capable of dreaming up, are entirely a matter of human choice. So the stark choice facing us all, without exception, in regard to these weapons, is between life and death. Each one of us must take responsibility for them. Each one of us must own the fact that we have the power to effect life or death, not just life now, or the death of a few people, but life for aeons to come and death that could be universal, a death without limits or boundaries.
What happens, then, when we face the stark reality of this choice, in the context of Easter and in that upper room? Or, better put, what could happen?
If we allow these two imponderables, the truth of the risen Christ and the reality of nuclear war, into the same space, something has to give. That is why I use the word ‘allow’. When it comes to nuclear holocaust, it is tempting to give in to feelings of powerlessness, or of feeling overwhelmed. The last thing we want to do, faced with this ultimate reality, is allow something to happen, to take a risk in the name of what is left of the goodness of humanity, and of the earth itself, to take a risk in the name of what is worth saving.
This is where the worship comes in. No single individual can guarantee a trajectory away from the threat of nuclear weapons, as it is so vividly depicted in the tweet I just quoted. But each one of us can surrender to the greater reality of God, the God we see and who the disciples touched and later shared a meal with, after he had risen from the dead. This is the worship and this is the joy. We all have a part to play in it. There is no time to spare for futile discussions about the validity or worth of what we are trying to give voice to in our reaching for the life promised us in him. We simply have to reach, and surrender, before madness overtakes us and it is too late.