by Rev. Dr. Robert Rosin
Five centuries before Christ, as Athens headed toward the end of its golden age, the city found itself in conflict with rival Sparta. One year into the Peloponnesian War, the leader of Athens—a general and statesman named Pericles—delivered a funeral oration made famous by the historian Thucydides. Pericles lauded the sacrifice of those fallen in behalf of Athens, hailing them as worthy of honor and praise. Yet, while those soldiers had been important, Athens could not dwell forever on their memory.
Instead, the living had to move on, and others would step into the breech and take their place. The world, Pericles told Athens, was a sepulcher of indispensable men.It always seems to be that way: We would like to see ourselves as irreplaceable, as if others could not get along without us, but life moves on. Someone else will take up the task and press ahead. Indispensable. We’d like to think that’s us. But the little guy or gal gets downsized in order that the company may survive. It’s a matter of assessing strengths, shoring up weakness and balancing resources—human resources included.
Even those with name recognition, who may think themselves larger than life, finally are eclipsed. Take Hosni Mubarak: Some (especially he) warned that his presence was essential with no alternative in sight, but people were willing to give it a go and try to live without him. So after some 30 years, he is gone in less than three weeks. Closer to home, the big league ball club’s franchise player, the icon and idol of fans, holds out for the pot of gold and the rainbow to boot. What will we do without him? Who knows? But sports talk will move on, and the sun will come up tomorrow.
Most of us, of course, will not even be a footnote in human history. Those whose rhetoric fills government’s halls or who come up with the invention to revolutionize our lives or who do something to grab the headlines may get more than the proverbial 15 minutes of fame, but it won’t take long—the next election or breakthrough or newscast—to make them just part of the mix.
The late Daniel J. Boorstin, once head of the Library of Congress, highlighted the hollow side of much of modern life in a book now 50 years old this year. It’s still in print, and no wonder. The Image: A Guide to the Pseudo-Events in America is one of those emperor-has-no-clothes honest looks at what passes for important and essential in our world today. People who actually reflect some substance, be it a matter of intellect or character, are overshadowed by those who are famous for being famous, those destined to be fodder for TMZ or some other avenue to notoriety.
Though with modern media and communications, there is no need to wait for the paparazzi to come chasing. Just follow along on Twitter. But honestly, who has the time? And who is worth it? More: Is life itself worth it?
The quest to be remembered is hardly new. In the Bible, it’s there in Genesis 11 with Babel’s tower. And literature echoes the story as well: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances,” wrote Shakespeare in As You Like It. Elsewhere his Macbeth bemoans that “life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying noth-ing.” It sounds like Old Testament Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.” So we might as well Twitter away, if it’s all so glum, if the world is a sepulcher of indispensable men.
But in this Easter season we are reminded that, in fact, there is at least one sepulcher no longer filled and one indispensable Man: the God-man Christ Jesus. What good can come out of Nazareth? A lot, it turns out. Good comes from there because He also has come out of the tomb. And that guarantees Him more than just 15 minutes of fame for sure. The life He lived and the death He died was one to fulfill God’s expectations, though counter to the culture others had set up. Expectations today seem no different. “Look at me,” so many cry. How sad, says Boorstin. It’s just an image, no real substance. But even those who seem to rise above the glitz with contributions that seem so worth-while—they also fade away. Pericles was an outsized man in his day. Today he’s fortunate if a reader cares enough to check him out in Wikipedia.
Easter and the risen Christ are different. It does not matter how we or others judge His worth. The Father thought Him worthy to be raised. That’s the evaluation, the judgment that counts. The Father will give Him the place at the right hand, the position that rates not for 15 minutes but forever, with death crushed and all things His and under His feet. It is not for us to approve. God gets along nicely without us on that count. But it is for us to tell. Doing that started the morning the stone was rolled away,
and the story was repeated by witnesses aplenty. 1 Corinthians 15 has a rundown to establish the fact. And with the fact comes the promise that His resurrection is ours as well for His sake. Our future hinges on that. Indispensable? Yes, to be sure!
Did you know? According to Rasmussen Reports, 48 percent of voters say the “country’s best days are . . . in the past.”
About the Author: Rev. Dr. Robert Rosin is professor at Concordia Seminary and coordinator of theological education for LCMS World Mission in Eurasia.