For over a month those who watch TV news have been hearing about “pings” that may lead to the wreckage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Commentators have tried to explain why this has taken so long. The first reason is that early reports of possible wreckage came from areas in the Indian Ocean that were hundreds of miles apart. This has made it hard to narrow the search. When pings that might have been coming from the aircraft’s black box were finally heard, reports still pointed to diverse areas. After forty days of intensive, multinational efforts, employing the most sophisticated equipment available, the search area still covers over 22,000 square miles.
Complicating the difficulty is the extreme depth of the ocean in the search region — nearly 3,000 miles down. The floor bottom is very rugged, full of undersea mountains and valleys. There is also a problem with “noise pollution” caused by the intrusion of sounds from sea-going vessels, including merchant ships and craft involved in the search, on top of the myriad underwater sounds that are natural to the deep sea. All these factors make locating the wreckage from the pings kind of like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
To make matters even worse, the TV news commentators keep reminding us that the aircraft’s black box is equipped with a battery that is designed to send out pings for thirty days. We’ve been rooting for the search vessels to hear pings before the battery goes dead. Fortunately, they have, and for several days, the pings helped narrow the search area. But now, as we are forty days out from the crash, the pings are no longer being heard.
This week we’re celebrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, which is central to the faith of one-third of the world’s population. This is such a large reality to us that we may not realize that the Christ Event itself was just the tiniest ping when it actually happened. In the vast array of populations, civilizations and histories of all the world’s peoples, it didn’t seem to matter at all. Here was one man, born and raised in a small town in a tiny middle-eastern nation that was a piece of the vast and mighty Roman Empire. He lived to be only thirty-three, just the last three years as a public figure. He never wrote a book, never held an office, never led a religious group. He had only a handful of followers, and when he was executed, because of religious misunderstandings or political miscalculations or both, it didn’t even make the local headlines. The sky didn’t fall; the world didn’t tilt on its axis. There was only the tiniest ping.
It’s hard to find any reference to Jesus in the first century, outside of the Christian tradition cultivated by his followers. There is a two-sentence reference to him in the lengthy history of the Jewish people written about AD 93 by Josephus, where he is dismissed as a heretical teacher who deserved execution. About twenty years later, the Roman historian Tacitus mentions Jesus’ crucifixion by Governor Pontius Pilate as an explanation of why his followers have to treated as trouble-makers. That’s about it. It appeared that the pings were quickly fading out from this inconsequential figure’s brief moment, soon to be lost in the vast, deep sea of human existence.
But something happened. At first, only those closest to him became aware. They babbled on about an empty tomb, about his being alive again, about his meeting with his followers to breathe new spiritual power into them, to give them a cause to live for and to die for. They began to store their experiences in the black box of their communal faith. The battery was ever-recharging, becoming more powerful. Ping . . . PING . . . PING!
The pings were regular, insistent, decade by decade, generation by generation, century by century, culture by culture. You could hear them all over the world. Not everyone heard them, but to “those who had ears to hear” (Mark 4:9), the ping was unmistakable. It was their call to accept him as Savior, to be born anew, to receive eternal life!
It’s Easter 2014! Your turn to hear it . . . PING! PING! PING!
— Pastor George Van Alstine