Sunday, April 16, 2017

Feeling Easter - Romans 6: 1-5

Easter is the most important day on the Christian calendar. It’s celebrated more than Christmas. But in our time Easter has become as much a secular holiday as a Christian one. We see bunnies, eggs, and flowers everywhere we look, which have nothing to do with Jesus’ resurrection. Only in church on Easter morning do we encounter the central mystery of the Resurrection. 

What can I say about Easter that you don’t already know? You’ve known about the cross, the grave and the empty tomb since you were a child in Bible school. There’s probably not a person alive in our town who could not tell the story of Easter, whether they believe it or not. Yet for many even in our churches the story is so old that it doesn’t seem to reach our hearts. We know the facts, they just don’t make us thrill any more.   

 Faith comes at us through three channels--our understanding, our actions, and our feelings. We know the story in our heads, we celebrate it by going to church, but the feelings are not there like they used to be. It’s like an old married couple—the love is still there, but the thrill is gone. After two thousand years, Christians still believe. But our hearts are sometimes cold to the message of Easter. It’s like watching movie we’ve seen a hundred times before. It’s still a good movie, but it just holds no surprises. We don’t follow it when we hear it.

For many believers, though the thrill has gone out of holy week. We no longer tremble at the sight of the crucifixion, nor do we deeply rejoice at the empty tomb.

Why did we lose our joy at the story of the Resurrection?  For the same reasons we don’t feel Easter Sunday, there are people here who are struggling with the aftermath of death, divorce, and discouragement. You’ve been through the wringer this year, and now you are just too tired to experience the thrill of Easter. We get to the place where there is no more energy left to celebrate Easter or anything else for that matter.

So our problem today is this--how we renew our wonder at the cross and the empty tomb? How do we reclaim that joy we once had at Easter?

It seems to me that there are two ways. One way is to let it take a trip back into the past. If we had a gifted storyteller, they could tell a story in a way that might get our attention again. Maybe they could throw in some fresh details, or tell it in some unique way. They could paint word pictures that would transport us in time back to that ancient day to relive these great events one more time. But I’m not an actor or master storyteller. I could never tell the story well enough to do it justice.

The other way of doing it is to try to relate the story to lives in the present. Maybe if we can think about how their feelings relate to ours, then we can recapture the feeling of Easter.   

Sometimes, I meet people who have given up on God, because of some personal tragedy. They will say, “I thought God was supposed to be good, but look what He let happen to me (or my friend). How could a good God let this happen? ” A sudden death, divorce or life collapse caused an emotional reaction that caused them to question even the existence of God.

When someone asks this, I want to answer--did you just think of that? How about when World War II happened? How about the holocaust? How about the black plague? They knew about these things, but there were not real to them. When tragedy hits near to home, we feel it and we are moved. We feel the suffering of the world only when it happens close to home.

The same is true of the resurrection. We don’t feel Easter, because we don’t see Easter as something that is happening to us. We think of it as far away in a different time and a different country.  But things happen close to us that provoke the same emotions.    

 For example, there was a man I knew years ago who was engaged to a woman. A few days before their wedding, she was  killed in a car crash with a drunk driver.

Imagine the emotional roller coaster that man endured. She was the love of his life. She had agreed to marry him. She was going to make his life happy.  Then in an instant, she was taken away. Maybe you or someone close to you have experienced something similar.  

Now imagine the disciples on Good Friday. They had all found Jesus—actually Jesus found them. Everything they had seen, heard and experienced for the last three years told them that He was their Messiah king. For three years they followed Him, waiting for the day that He would be crowned as king in Jerusalem. They imagined themselves as ruling with Him, being part of His cabinet of advisors. In three short years, they had come to believe in a fantastic future for themselves. They were going to be the King’s cabinet of advisors. More than that, they had come to love the man Jesus. His leadership and love was everything to them. They were loyal to him to the death, or at least they thought they were.

But now on Good Friday Jesus had just died a horrible, public death as a criminal. They themselves were hunted men. They had gone from the top of the world to the bottom.

It wasn’t just the pain of losing a loved one, though. It was much, much more. They had lost their futures. They had lost their personal self-esteem. They had believed in Jesus and they had been proven fools. More than that they had lost their God. Not only were their hearts shattered, but their faith was shattered as well.

 When we experience loss, our faith helps us through. But if our faith is shattered, what can help us then? Jesus was their all in all. How could they ever recover from this loss.

Now let’s go back to the man who lost his fiancé in a car accident. What would it be like if, about three days later, his fiancé returned to him, well, whole and happy? What if right in the middle of the funeral preparations, she suddenly rose from the dead?

That’s Easter. Easter is the sudden revival of all our dead hopes and dreams. It is the beginning of a new life which we never thought possible.   

Easter is a historical event that includes us. We are included in this event in a way that isn’t true for any other event in human history. Paul says it well in Romans 6. We are buried with Christ in his death. Our sinful nature and old habits are put to death on the cross. Our sins are buried in His burial. Our baptism symbolizes that. In the resurrection, we ourselves are resurrected. Easter symbolizes that.

Easter isn’t just a calendar date but a current reality.  It is a real today, because death is a real today. Death is still with us, and so is sin, addiction, disappointment, depression, anxiety, fear, and the Devil. They are still around, and they still drag us down into physical and spiritual death—as dead as Jesus on Good Friday.

Have you ever watched a loved one die? Have you ever walked beside a person struggling to break free of a crippling addiction? Have you ever felt that your life was going to hell in a handbasket and there was nothing you could do about it? If you have, then you have felt Good Friday. The death of Jesus was the utter destruction of hope. 

It’s a terrible thing to lose all hope, yet many people have lost all. Some lose hope, because of things that happen to them through no fault of their own. Others lose hope, because of things they have done to themselves. Jesus died through no fault of their own.

In the story of Easter, there are two people who lost hope, because of the things they had done. These two people were Peter and Judas. Judas, when he realized that he had betrayed the Lord committed suicide. Many who lose hope still commit suicide, either quickly with pills or a bullet, or slowly with drugs, alcohol or overeating. It is a realization of their self-made spiritual death without a hope of forgiveness or resurrection. Judas gave up hope and didn’t live to see Easter.

But Peter denied Jesus and gave up hope, too, but unlike Judas, Peter saw Easter. What a difference! If Good Friday is the taking away of hope, then Easter Sunday is its return. Sin is real, death is real, and our depression is also real. But Easter is coming, and that makes all the difference. The irreversible has been reversed. The irreconcilable has been reconciled. God can take us wherever we are and bring us new life.

Suppose you woke up tomorrow, and you were suddenly twenty-two years old again! All the irresistible effects of aging, had suddenly been reversed and you had a whole new life ahead of you.  What a joy it would be to know that you had your entire life ahead of you! 

That’s the effects of Easter on the world. The reversal of time, the reversal of aging, and the reversal of death itself! After death we can come back. If that is true for death, then it is also true for all lesser things like addiction, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, homelessness, failure and despair! There’s nothing on hell, or on earth that cannot be reversed by the power of Christ and His resurrection. His death restores everything.

If we look at the rest of Jesus’ life, see that Easter is not just a one-time miracle, but the continual repetition of a theme. Look at the story of the paralyzed man lowered down through the roof to Jesus’ presence. His legs were dead, but they were made alive. Look at the story of Mary Magdalene, a prostitute and demon possessed woman. Her soul was dead, but it was made alive. Look at the Gadarene demoniac, Jairus’ daughter, the centurion’ servant, blind Bartimaus, little Zacchaeus, Lazarus, and so many others. Each one was dead in their own way. Yet in Jesus they were made alive. Each of the miracles of the Bible was a foreshadowing of God’s power shown in perfection in Christ’s own resurrection.  

The story of Christ’s resurrection is really the story of our resurrection. No matter who we are and what we have been through this year, we can look back and know that Hope is just around the corner.

In your life it may be Good Friday, but remember this—Easter is coming. Easter has come, and because of that, we will all be resurrected into new life, new joy, and a new hope.

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