Thursday, April 27, 2006
Easter weekend is such a powerful moment in the Christian calendar, not only for those of us who celebrate and follow Jesus Christ today, but for the last couple thousand years, where people have used this weekend in memoriam of the central aspect of the Christian faith.
I thought we might talk about that power, about the meaning of Easter Sunday, today.
By way of introduction, I’d like to tell you about my friend Jeremy James. Jeremy and I played basketball together. He was a great player and he was a good friend. One night, though, after a game in which he’d performed poorly — and you know how high school boys can be sometimes about sports, about the pressure he’d have felt from the team — he died in a car crash on the way home.
I remember coming to school the next day and seeing this group of gals huddled around in the hallway; they were friends of Jeremy and I. Not yet knowing what had happened, I asked, “What’s going on?”
They told me.
You know when you get really awful news it just kind of feels like time stops? Like everything goes quiet and you get this hallow feeling in your chest, and there is this hum that sort of blocks out all other noise or distraction.
I remember sitting there after learning about Jeremy’s death and feeling unable to really process what was going on. I felt unable to grasp the finality of death, the huge irreversible nature of what had happened; and all day I remember praying for something to have somehow been miscommunicated - like maybe it was a mistake or a sick joke. I kept thinking that Jeremy was going to show up for afternoon class or maybe be at school the next, that he was really just sick or something. But as the day wore on and then, of course, the next day and the next week, I realized that Jeremy was never coming back.
Jeremy’s parents were two of the most godly people I’d ever met. They define the term “spiritual giant” in my mind, and I can remember that in the weeks and months, and even the years, after Jeremy died that they pastored us, his friends, through the loss of their son. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for Jeremy’s mom to sit me down, only days after he passed away, and say, “Dave, it’s okay. It’s going to be alright.” I can’t imagine what it was like for his dad to show up and speak to our junior class or for him to embrace the girl who had been out with Jeremy the night before. I can’t imagine what it was like for them to think only about us, or so it seemed, in those moments, about how to help us be okay with the death of their son. They kept reiterating to us, “It’s okay. We know he is in a better place. We know he’s safe; he is in the arms of God, in the presence of Christ.”
For me, that whole experience was such a profound shift in my thinking, in my thinking about life and death, about what truly matters, about what endures, because I knew that Jeremy was never coming back. I knew that there’s no chance, no opportunity, for him to walk through the back door. He won’t call me this afternoon to wish me a Happy Easter, because I’ll never see him again in this life.
Yet, when I think about Easter, about the power of the Resurrection, I am also forced to think about the truth, the veracity, and the authenticity, of our God. I am forced to think about Jesus Christ, being betrayed, murdered, executed, and martyred for his conviction to help people believe that God loves them and wants to know them intimately and more personally. When I think about Jesus being killed for believing that, for claiming that, for preaching that, and then coming back to life in a physical, corporeal body to present himself to his followers, I think about that as a great reversal.
I think about God saying, “Everything is reversible, even death.”
In my life, I can’t even begin to count up all that God has reversed in me. He’s reversed my relationships, he’s reversed my dreams, even my thinking. When I think about the difference that Jesus Christ has made in my life, I think he is still resurrecting me – still reversing me. He is resurrecting the dead parts of me. There are hurts and bitternesses, anger and rage; there’s unresolved issues that every day Christ is opening up, that’s he’s bringing the dead parts of my soul, of my spirit, back to life.
Maybe it’s the same for you. Maybe you feel like you’ve got broken dreams or broken relationships, and you’re begining to understand that God wants to make old things new, to bring new life into those things that have been destroyed, who wants to put back together broken families and who wants to offer, for us, the great cosmological swap of death to life, darkness to light.
In John, Chapter 20, Jesus makes one of his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. Christ made about twelve different appearances to his friends and followers after he died and came back to life. These took place over a period of about six weeks during which he appeared to over five hundred people. This is the story of Jesus appearing to doubting Thomas.
Of course Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, has become famous because he was the skeptic. He was the one who didn’t believe that Jesus could have been resurrected, and in one of these appearances, Jesus shows up to him give the proof.
So, let’s pick it up in John, Chapter 20, Verse 24.
Now Thomas called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them
when Jesus came.
“Them,” being the other disciples after a recent appearance that Jesus had made.
So the other disciples, therefore, said to him…
Said to Thomas…
‘We have seen the Lord!’
So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails
and put my finger into the print of the nails and put my hand into his
side, I will not believe.’
After eight days his disciples were again inside and Thomas with
them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in their midst
and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Reach your
finger here and look at my hands and reach your hand here and
put into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’
Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen me, you have
believed, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet have
Truly, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book. But these are written that you
may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by
believing you may have life in his name.
Do you know that in the stories about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances he only appeared to people who already believed in him, who already claimed to be followers of The Way, followers of Jesus Christ? Do you know that even though there were those who fell away, who renounced their claim to Jesus as the Son of God, as the Messiah, before he was crucified, that none to whom he appeared after being resurrected ever renounced their faith?
This is a switch from the way Jesus did things before he died.
Before Jesus died, he would perform miracles and then say, “Don’t tell anybody about this,” but after he died, he shows up and exposes himself fully to his followers. They see the undeniable miracle, the supernatural confrontation of this once-dead man now fully back to life, and it’s like they lost their ability not to believe. It’s like their choice was made for them, because there was no denying that he was there.
They got to stick their fingers in the holes.
Many of these men were cowards who became transformed by this experience into men of absolute passion and conviction. They swapped out of personae of fear and into such fervor that they were willing to give their own lives in proclamation of the god who loves. It’s like they don’t get to be weak anymore, because they are full of conviction, full of authority, full of power, full of servitude.
Yet, look what Jesus says to Thomas? “You believe because you have seen, but blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” Blessed are you, because you are buoyed by faith. Because our conviction in the invisible resurrected Christ propels us into relationship with God.
You know, one of my favorite things about Jesus is the way that he is kind of expropriated by everybody. I mean, everybody lays claim to the person of Jesus Christ—hippies, yuppies, venture capitalist, communists, republicans – everybody claims Jesus as theirs. There is just something about Christ, about the way that he lived, about the way that he devoted himself, his teachings, towards love, towards anti-materialism, towards peace. He taught us to abandon a life based on things, and showed us instead a life that’s based on relationships.
This was revolutionary. We’ve titled our weekend, Insurresurrection which, of course, is a smashing together of two words — resurrection, by which we refer to the Resurrection, the coming back to life of Jesus Christ who was once dead — and insurrection, meaning rebellion, because Jesus’ very life and every breath was a rebellion against the dominant forces of the world of his time.
Jesus’ very life and breath is rebellion against media. It is rebellion against the things that tell you that you don’t have what you need but you could if you’ll just buy this one other product, this one other magical fat-burning pill, this one other special-looking suit, if you’ll get this new haircut, then, maybe then, you might almost be cool enough to be in the next advertisement. Everything about Jesus was revolutionary as he fought those messages to tell you that you have in you the Spirit of God, the stamp of Christ, the very life-giving authority, power, presence and breath that Jesus Christ himself died to give you, that that’s not something that can be bought, because it has already been paid for.
This is the miracle of Resurrection Sunday. It is the great cosmological swap where all that seemed bad and ill and evil—the crucifixion, the scattering of the disciples, the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry—when everything evil seemed to triumph and then God swapped it all away. Instead, He brought new life, new courage, new conviction, a new spirit, a new stamp, a new name to the followers of Jesus.
It’s what he brings to us.
After all, the very act of the Resurrection was an act of civil disobedience.
During the era when Jesus was killed there was a law that if you were to break Pilot’s – the Roman Procurator’s – seal, that crime was punishable by imprisonment. Also written in the law was that to strike a Roman Legionnaire was a crime punishable by death. When Jesus rose from the dead Pilot’s seal, which was put across the tomb of Christ, was broken as the great stone rolled away, and thunder erupted in the sky knocking the Roman Legionnaires to the ground.
In a kind of ironic essenece, once Jesus was resurrected, the politicians could have legitimately tried him and put him to death again for the crimes of his resurrection.
The Resurrection is a defiance of all that is wrong in the world, of all that is wrong in us and in our shared assumptions, but it’s not just a war cry. It’s not just a rebellion against something. It’s a great switch for something. It is a great switch for life. It is a great opportunity, access, a great waypoint for us to intersect with God. So, when we see our friends being baptized, when we see this great, ancient symbol of old life passing away and new life erupting out of the water, we see the metaphoric representation of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. We see people coming into new life; we see everything old becoming new.
You know, if we believe that God is all-powerful, then we have to believe that he could have stopped the Crucifixion. If God is up in Heaven watching His Son being murdered, being unjustly tried, being thrown to death on mocked-up charges by corrupt political and religious officials, if we see the God of justice watching all of these unjust things happening to his son and we believe that he’s all-powerful, then certainly we can conceive that God could have stopped it.
But He didn’t.
He didn’t stop evil, He reversed it. He took that which was evil and made it good. He took the betrayal of His Son, the betrayal that was supposed to take away one life and instead used it to give life to me, to us.
I wonder if we’re really ready for that life, for the full measure of what Jesus Christ makes available to us. I wonder if we’re ready to actually walk away from a life of fragmentation and despair. I wonder if we’re actually ready to defy the things in this world that say your family is going to fall apart, that you really probably aren’t good enough, and that probably you’re going to need a few extra “things” if you’re ever going to be happy.
I wonder if we’re really ready to find the courage, the conviction, the compulsion, the internal strength, the steel that it takes to stand up in defiance against those very lies and say, “Forget it.”
I wonder if we’re really ready to make that swap.
That’s the question I want to leave you with today.
Are you ready? Are you ready to be flipped, to be turned over, to completely surrender the old life and embrace the new one?