Archives for posts with tag: Easter

risen

It never occurred to me to consider the Easter story from the perspective of the soldiers who were commanded to find Jesus’ body and kill the notion that “the Nazarene” was resurrected. I never considered that God could use the commands of a Roman governor to change the heart of a Roman soldier. While it is a new perspective for me, it is so like God to allow those who seek the truth to find it in His story.

 I wonder how many stories we don’t know. I wonder what post resurrection appearances or miracles are unknown to us because God chose to make those personal, rather than eternal. I wonder what would happen today if we pursued the truth, rather than trying to prove ourselves right. I wonder what the Church would look like if we were as interested in being in God’s presence as we are in achieving our self-prescribed goals.

 Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie is when the soldier goes to sit on a rock with Jesus at dawn. The soldier says, “I was there when you died.” It’s not profound or deeply philosophical. It’s not a great statement of faith. It has far more to do with his doubt than his belief. But his honesty led him to God. May it be so for us.

 Go see the movie. Allow yourself to celebrate the miracle of Easter and the privilege of knowing God.

 

easter monday

The grief and horror of Good Friday are almost unimaginable. The silence and sadness and emptiness of that Saturday are literally unspeakable. And then the thrill, the awe, the utter joy of Easter Sunday morning. Jesus appears to them and the hopelessness of the heartbreaking weekend …is no more.

But what about Monday? They know Jesus isn’t dead….but he’s not really “with” them either. They decided to follow Jesus and stay near him, and then he left them alone. They used to just wait for Jesus’ instructions for the day and obey him. But on Monday that is no longer true.

What do you do when the rules change? What happens when you don’t see the plan or have any clue what the next step looks like? The disciples will have fifty days to wait before they begin to see the plan. What did they do with those fifty days until Pentecost? The Crucifixion and Resurrection were events that were out of their control; they could only emotionally respond. The fifty days of Pentecost test their faith when they don’t understand what God is doing.

What do you do with the “in between” times of your life? You want to do the right thing, and you have no idea what that is. You want to be obedient, but your connection to God, your ability to hear from him, is occasional and inconsistent. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

As I study their response during this time, I see two important lessons we need to remember when we are in an “in between” time. One is that they stayed together. Jesus had organized them into a group and they found strength in fellowship with each other. We know that a week after Easter, they were all still together in Jerusalem. We know that seven of them went up to Galilee for a fishing trip. And we know that they were all together at Pentecost as they were filled with the Holy Spirit that enabled them to understand what God wanted from each of them in the immediate future and empowered them to do mighty miracles in God’s name.

They also remained obedient to what they did know. Just because they didn’t see the big picture or have clear understanding of the next step, didn’t mean that all Jesus had said wasn’t true. They didn’t immediately run to pagan altars because that “Jesus” thing didn’t work out like they thought. They didn’t return home and put that “Jesus” phase of their lives behind them. They obeyed what they knew to be true until they received new instruction.

And so must we. Unlike the disciples, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. But like the disciples we sometimes find ourselves at moments when we don’t know what to do next, when we want to be obedient, but have no idea what that looks like. Seek the fellowship of godly people and obey what you do know until God reveals your next step. Joyfully anticipate that the one who promised to never leave you is about to do something new through you.

Resurrection

Most people believe in life after death. Religions throughout the world and history have taught that death is not the end. Witches and mediums claim to use séances to speak to the dead. Many entertain themselves with stories, movies, and video games built around characters like ghosts, vampires, and zombies who “come back from the dead”. Millions believe in reincarnation, the idea that how you behave in this life will determine what kind of life form you become next. There is almost something innate in humans that leads us to believe that death is not the end.

When God sent his son as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of his people, his purpose was not just to die to atone for the sins of his people; his purpose was resurrection – to give them eternal life. Jesus’ resurrection is the defining concept for Christianity. If it didn’t happen, he is nothing more than a great prophet and teacher…but if it did, it is evidence that we worship the God who is more powerful than death, who is defined by love and mercy for his children, and who provided the means for them to spend eternity in his presence. His resurrection makes all the difference.

Jewish authorities wanted to destroy the Christ because he threatened their power. Roman authorities wanted to keep the peace during Passover. Both groups needed Jesus to be dead and stay dead. Rome posted additional guards at his tomb to make sure that he didn’t leave the tomb. (Mat 27:62-66) Lots of “experts” (including the History Channel!) have gone to great lengths to offer some explanation of what happened on Easter morning that doesn’t include resurrection. Some say he didn’t really die on the cross, that he just swooned and they thought he was dead. Seems to me that Roman guards who regularly handled crucifixion detail would have known a dead body when they saw it. It also strikes me as incredibly unrealistic that a man who was beaten so severely that he couldn’t carry his cross, who then was nailed to it for hours, who had his side pierced with a spear, would have, from that weakened state, suddenly stirred to unwrap all his grave clothes, paused to fold the cloth around his face, and then summoned enough strength to move a 2 ton stone. Other “pseudo” experts have conjectured that the disciples actually stole his body just to perpetrate the myth of his resurrection. Why would they have taken the grave clothes off and left them in the tomb so they could carry a naked, dead body through the streets? And there is still the problem of the guards outside the tomb! I believe that the strongest validation of the resurrection is the total change in the behavior of the disciples. They ran from the guards at Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested, Peter denied even knowing Jesus in the courtyard of the trial, and they hid behind locked doors in fear of the authorities that might come for them next. And yet, after Easter and Pentecost, they became bold and outspoken about Jesus, especially with the leaders they so feared before his death. There are very few people who are willing to be persecuted and martyred for what they truly believe in; I know of none that have been willing to die to perpetrate a complete hoax. Their experience with the risen Christ changed their fear, their expectations, and their future.

Jesus’ body was physically resurrected. His soul didn’t just abandon a body he no longer needed; his tomb was empty. Many of the post resurrection accounts give evidence of a very real physical body. Mary mistook him for a gardener, not a ghost. Jesus’ hands and feet and side showed scars of the crucifixion. He offered to let Thomas touch his scars (John 20:24-29), he ate fish (Luke 24:49), and he eventually took that body with him when he ascended to heaven (Acts 1:8-9).

Anyone can throw away what is old and broken. Anyone can walk away from what is painful or hard and replace it with something that is shiny and new and easy. But God’s character consistently shows that he is all about redemption, not replacement. He doesn’t give us a list and say, “When you’re qualified, I will bless you.” He never says that anyone is too sinful, too far gone, too much of a mess for him to resurrect into a new creation. He consistently takes broken people who have a broken past, whatever that looks like, and make them into something new and better. He specializes in taking broken things – dreams, hearts, hopes, promises, and relationships – and remaking them into something with new purpose and power.

God’s power is most apparent when he brings new life to what we thought was dead. I suspect that he does this to remind us that resurrection is real. God put reminders of resurrection into his creation so that we wouldn’t forget that death is not the end; it is the beginning of new and different and better. Seasons consistently change showing the cycle that brings “life” after “death”. The barren bleakness of branches in winter become budding color palettes that signal spring. There is life within a seemingly dead seed. Landscapes ravaged by fire bloom and bud with new life within weeks. Decaying plant matter fertilizes soil for new growth. The caterpillar seems lifeless in the cocoon, but emerges as a symbol of spring and hope when it transforms into a butterfly. Baptism symbolizes dying to a life of sin and rising to a life of obedience.

God wants me to recognize this resurrection power in his world and in my life. Hopelessness and death are not the end. There may be times when God wants me to let go of what should be in my past and move forward to what will come. But sometimes he wants to bring new life to what seems dead. Situations or relationships that I’ve given up on as a lost cause, can suddenly become something new and better if I trust God to transform them, rather than manipulating to impose my will. My God is powerful enough take the broken pieces of this life and rebuild them into what will last for eternity. Let us worship the God who defeated death, and trust him to rebuild all that sin has destroyed.

Redemption

I wear a cross around my neck. My husband gave it to me 25 years ago, and I’ve worn it ever since. It is a beautiful piece of jewelry, but it is special to me because it is a cross. It doesn’t make me a better Christian or give me some sort of magical protection. It is my choice to be associated with what became the symbol of Jesus.

The earliest reference to crucifixion dates to the 400’s bc when a Persian general was crucified by the victorious Athenian army after defeat. But it is the Romans who made crucifixion common. It was designed to be a humiliating, torturous execution that could be public to deter any others who might be tempted to test the strength of the Roman government. This form of execution was intentionally demeaning and allowed passersby to heap scorn and derision on the suffering, dying man. Emperors would often line the street into a city with bodies hung on crosses; Nero even set them on fire to light the street.

Selfish, deceitful, evil people were threatened by the power of Jesus. And they should have been! He had the power to call down fire from heaven and take them out, but instead he chose to withhold his power and allow them to execute him. He willingly endured the agony and shame of the mock trial and beating and crucifixion because he wanted us to know that sin has a price….and he was willing to pay it for us. God made it clear to Abraham that sin required a blood sacrifice; Jesus provided it for all of humanity.

The contrast between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews and Rome during Holy Week is stark. . They wanted the acclaim their positions offered and sought to destroy anything that threatened it. The leaders chose to lie and murder to protect their jobs and their power. They used what little power they had to destroy what they feared. Jesus already had all power on heaven and on earth. He used that power to save what he loved. What Jesus wanted was for us, not to just avoid the punishment of hell, but to have fellowship with God, unhindered by the shame and consequences of our sin. He chose to become that blood sacrifice on Passover so that his people would be spared eternal death.

Crosses then were made from wood. Not polished beautiful wood, but rough hewn wood. Mine is made from gold. And in that comparison I find the symbol of the power of my Savior. His love changes what is intended for evil, something crude and shameful and ugly, and transforms it into the symbol of salvation. His cross became my redemption and my hope. His sacrifice is the ultimate symbol of intentional, sacrificial love. What began as humiliation and suffering became power over death and access to heaven, freely given by Jesus who used his power to redeem those he loves. There is no evil intent, no sin, no pain so great that it cannot be transformed into healing and power by the God who loves you, who has all authority in heaven and on earth. He can be trusted with the crude sin of your past and transform it into a brand new future. God redeemed the despair and horror of the crucifixion of Good Friday into the miracle and glory of Easter morning.

Be assured of his love for you. Seek his presence and forgiveness this Easter. Find a Christian community with whom you can worship the God who can redeem crosses and people and make them beautiful and holy.