April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday
On Beyond Amazing
The confirmation students are exploring their own Christian faith. What do these teens believe? We are their role models for what we believe and how we live our faith. A confirmand may ask you ‘who is God to you?’ Or, ‘Who is Jesus or the Holy Spirit in your life?’ I know they’d appreciate BRIEF answers.
So today, if you were asked to put Easter into one word, what would it be? …Would our honest answer be: ‘Uh…Chocolate?” Upon reflection, what is the essence of Easter in our life? … Joy. Resurrection. Life. Hope. Assurance. Total surprise. Awe? On-beyond-amazing: the most amazing thing since creation! Oops, that’s more than one word. Amazing!
The RSV describes the women followers of Jesus as “perplexed” when they found Jesus’ tomb vacant. GNB uses “distressed,” a wimpy translation that barely begins to describe their reaction. The Gospel of Mark says that Mary and Salome were “amazed” to find the tomb empty. They were astonished, even shocked—They were gob-struck, even though Jesus had told them what would happen. The angel at the tomb said to the women, “Do not be amazed.” Why do you seek the living among the dead?” [Luke & Mark] The angel implied: “What do you expect from God?”
…. Even so, there’s reason to be amazed. Christ is risen! How would you have reacted?
What does Christ’s resurrection mean to you today?
TODAY, I asked the children to draw a picture of Easter. What would you draw? A boy in another church drew a pic of Jesus standing beside his tomb with hands raised high, shouting, TA DAH! Jesus was not a naïve prankster like Gomer Pyle popping out, saying, “Surprise! Surprise!”
According to the New Testament, the resurrected Jesus appeared and reassured his faithful followers, in effect saying, “Do not be amazed. What do you expect from God?”
Jesus explained numerous times that he would be resurrected, in order to soften the shock and help them understand. Jesus told his disciples, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the priests and scribes; and be killed; and on the 3rd day be raised.”
Even so, Jesus’ followers had not believed Jesus would die. They saw him as the messiah, God’s appointed messenger. He had a LOT more to do!
Jesus’ resurrection continues to make us agog today-- reversing death! Auguste Comte, a founder of sociology once told Thomas Carlyle that he was going to start a new religion that would replace Christianity. “Very good,” replied Carlyle. “All you have to do is to be crucified, rise again on the third day, and get the world to believe you are still alive. Then your religion will have a chance.”
The Apostle Paul challenged King Agrippa “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? Now if there is no God, obviously God could raise nobody. But if God is and if God is the free sovereign and all-powerful God revealed in the Scriptures, then certainly such a thing is possible for God. So why is it so incredible that God should raise the dead? [see Acts 26]
People in every generation understandably doubt that resurrection is possible, even for God. Temporary rejuvenation would be miracle enough. Jesus brought Lazarus and a little girl back to life…but they would die eventually. Hugely greater than resuscitation, Jesus promised eternal life to his followers!
A second on-beyond-amazing thing about Jesus’ resurrection is his continued presence. After his death, Jesus repeatedly turned up in unexpected ways and places. He even appeared to his persecutor, Paul on the road to Damascus.
Even more amazing, Jesus is still present to believers today. Skeptics discredit this mystical presence because Jesus is not a physical presence. Yet Jesus IS a very real spiritual presence. For many of us, Jesus’ presence thru the H. Spirit is as real as physical presence. This mystery is more than remembering Jesus and more than hero worship! The Holy Spirit connects us with Jesus. We are often most fully conscious of Christ’s presence when we especially need him at high or low points in our life. Also, we may be acutely aware of Christ’s presence when we help people in need.
Christians often experience Jesus’ presence when a group of believers are gathered for worship, study or fellowship, like the disciples gathered in the Upper Room after Jesus’ death.
Christ is present even when we doubt, like skeptical Thomas. Most of us have experienced feeling that Christ is absent and we can’t discern Christ’s presence. Sometimes we intentionally shut out divine guidance. Even so, Christ is present.
Thirdly, the NEWNESS that Christ brings is on-beyond- amazing. In John Masefield’s drama, The Trial of Jesus, the Roman commander at the cross brings his report to Pilate.
Pilate’s wife asks, “Do you think he is dead?”
The centurion replies, “No, lady, I don’t.”
“Then where is he?” she asks.
“Let loose in the world, lady, where neither Roman nor Jew can stop his truth.”
Easter is much more than butterflies, Easter eggs, and springtime regeneration. God offers resurrection-- a re-evolution, new creation.
Jesus dramatically changed Mary Magdalene, Peter, Thomas…and Paul and others. There was no stopping their gratitude and zeal. Faith in Jesus and his resurrection transformed their lives, and the world! Paul proclaimed, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and behold, the new has come,” God’s power and the love of Christ are on-beyond-amazing!
It’s easy to think things can’t change. We ourselves tend not to like to change. Yet to remain static results in a death-like inertia. God in Christ can renew—even me and you. The assurance of eternal life impacts every day and transforms lives!
On-beyond-amazing: Jesus brings JOY! Christians in the NT exude powerful underlying JOY, even in the face of horrendous persecution and adversity. NT folks had huge setbacks and disheartening experiences. Yet they still radiated joy.
Resurrection faith is like knowing we will come safely through a storm. Certitude of eventual safety makes storms feel far less threatening In the confidence of resurrection faith, we know we will find safe harbor. If we trust God, we can even appreciate learning hard lessons.
People who have not discovered resurrection faith are like prisoners who have given up hope, and never discover that the prison door is not locked. Joy comes thru discovering the open door and freedom.
CS Lewis tells about his own journey from atheism to Christian faith in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Lewis states, “It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.” CS Lewis did not live in constant joy after his spiritual awakening. Yet Lewis notes that joy became more constant in his life.
The joy of resurrection faith does not deny hardship, fear or doubts. Denial of difficulties would be lying or self-deception. After the resurrection of Jesus, his followers returned to the same old world. Only THEY were different. Like them, we, can open ourselves to the continual promise of new life. AND…we can help the people around us to discover the on-beyond amazing, power and joy of resurrection faith.