God’s Easter Redo Icon

Myths, legends and folktales fascinate us because they tell in metaphor story many segments of what I call the Cosmic Whole Story—the story of God and people as recorded in the Bible.

The Canela people with whom Jo and I translated a partial Bible have a myth about the origins of the human race, which shows how badly people need what we celebrate at Easter. The original tale is long and complicated, but here is a compact version:

The Canela Creation Myth
One day both Sun and Moon leave their houses in the sky to visit earth which is filled with plants and animals, but no people. Both Sun and Moon have certain special powers that they exercise during their adventures on earth.

Sun has the power of knowledge and teaching Moon what he should do by demonstrating what to do and warning him against doing the wrong thing. Moon, however, disobeys Sun and consistently does the opposite of what Sun demonstrates and wants Moon to do.

Unfortunately, although Moon is obstinate and unwilling to learn from Sun, it is he who has the power to set precedents–whatever Moon does on earth will go on forever.

Palm trees used to be short and easy for anyone to pluch the fruit, but when Moon disobeys Sun’s instructions and mistreats a palm tree, it shoots up to a great height. Since then, all palm trees are tall and harvesting their fruit is difficult.

One day Sun shows Moon how to make children. He wades into a creek, slaps the water with a cupped hand and comes up with a beautiful son. Moon wades in too, but whacks the water with an open hand instead of a cupped hand and emerges with an ugly child. They keep making sons and daughters for a while until they grow tired of it and return to dry land.

Moon then asks Sun, “What will happen to our children when they get old and die?” In answer Sun takes a long dry stalk from a naja palm and spears it deep down into the water, but being light, it pops back up again and floats on the surface. “This is what will happen to our children.” Sun explains, “When they get old they will die, but then revive and come alive again and go on living.”

Moon then picks up, not a naja palm stalk but a large stone, and before Sun can stop him, throws it into the water where it sinks to the bottom. “Now look what you have done!” shouts Sun, “Now our children will die and stay dead forever.” Sun and Moon ascend to their houses in the sky and never again concern themselves about their children.

The Bible Version of the Story
The Bible tells the same story. God, the Creator, placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. Just as Sun instructed Moon, so God taught Adam how to live in the garden and warned him about the forbidden fruit. Just as Moon wilfully disobeyed Sun, with disastrous consequences, so Adam disobeyed God and set a precedent, which led to death for all his future children.

The Canela myth stops there with people living under difficult conditions and dying in the end. The Cosmic Whole Story, however, goes on to a better ending.

God’s Redo Icon: The Rest of the Story
God clicked the Redo icon when he sent His Son Jesus to earth as the second Adam. Jesus did everything God intended Him to do without disobeying and reset the precedents earlier set by Adam. Instead of death, the consequence is life. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22) Because of what Jesus did in living, dying and returning to life, never to die again, God’s children, those who believe in Him, will live forever with Him.

The Canela people have been reading the “Rest of the Story” in their own language for the past thirty years. Many Canelas have chosen to believe in the God of the Bible, the Creator who loved them and who hit the Redo Icon to give billions of his creatures everlasting life.

This is what Easter is all about! It’s especially good news in these fear and panic-filled months during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s celebrate God’s Easter Redo this Sunday!

How a Simple Easter Story Affected a Church and the Denomination

God’s Spirit moved unexpectedly during the Easter Sunday service in a crowded church in Trinidad. As executive director for Wycliffe Caribbean, on most Sundays I would be away speaking in churches, but this time I had the weekend off and decided to attend a church a few blocks from my office. I had visited a few times and preached there once.

The usher seated me in the front pew, next to the pastor and his wife. After a rousing time of musical worship and celebration, the pastor introduced the special visiting speaker, the president of the denomination.

“But before our president brings the message,” he said, “I’d like to welcome our brother Jack from Wycliffe. Jack, please come up and bring a few words of greeting from Wycliffe.” Inviting visiting pastors or missionaries to say a few words is customary in many Caribbean churches, so I was not surprised. I took the microphone, knowing I was expected to speak for at least five to ten minutes. I gave a two-minute update on Wycliffe Caribbean and the world of Bible translation, and continued, “This Easter morning I am remembering what happened the first time we spent Easter in the Canela village of Brazil.”

I then told a two-minute story about the Canela old men’s council arguing over how someone had died. Some insisted he had been executed. Others disagreed saying he had died in a fight, “How else did he get holes in his hands and feet if he wasn’t grabbing and kicking at the spears?” Suddenly I realized they were talking about Jesus, His crucifixion and death!

As I prayed for an opportunity to speak, the chief called on me, and said, “We’ve been hearing news from our Portuguese speaking Brazilian neighbours that this week everyone is remembering the death of a really important man, but we don’t understand what happened. Do you know anything about this?”

“Yes, I do!” I said, and ran home to get the freshly translated story.

That was the first time I publicly read the Easter story in Canela. Even though it was only a first draft translation, hearing the clear facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection made a huge impact on the Canelas. (See “The Easter Confusion Continues” pages 59-60, A Poke in the Ribs.)

“Hundreds of millions of people,” I told the congregation, “speak over 4,000 languages all around the world in which none of the Bible has yet been translated. It breaks my heart that right now, today, this very Easter Sunday morning, they are still just as confused about Easter as the Canelas were back in the early 1970s.”

I sat down and the visiting speaker entered the pulpit. He opened his Bible, arranged his notes, looked over the congregation and said, “I sense I should give an opportunity for some of you to respond to what you have just heard. Do you feel God wants you to give yourself to Him to act in whatever way He calls, in order to bring God’s Word to those who still don’t have it in their languages? It may be that you are willing to personally go overseas, or to pray or give as you have never prayed or given before. If you are ready to make a commitment, come forward and I’ll pray for you.”

That’s when the Spirit’s work showed.

They kept coming, we kept praying.

One by one, men, women, young people, and older folks got up and walked to the front and stood with bowed heads. After about twenty people had come, the pastor whispered to me, “I’ve never seen this before,” stood up and organized a line for people to be prayed for by the visiting speaker, by himself, by the chief elder and by me.

The people kept coming. We kept laying our hands on them and praying. After over half the congregation had come, received prayer, and had returned to their seats, nearly an hour had gone by. The visiting speaker never did preach his sermon. He stood with tears in his eyes, asked everyone to rise, and gave the benediction.

One Saturday, some months later, a Wycliffe team came to that church and ran a well-attended, in-depth workshop on how to get involved in Bible translation. The following year, Wycliffe Caribbean signed a ministry partnership agreement with that denomination, the largest one in that part of the Caribbean.

God is at work! In the ten years since I told that two-minute story, people groups speaking hundreds of different languages have received God’s Word in their language for the first time. And Bible translation projects are ongoing in nearly 2,000 other languages! May God speed the day that not one person on earth remains confused about who Jesus is, why he died and what His resurrection means.

 

He is alive! Happy Easter!