Monday, March 24, 2008

Because He Lives, You Also Will Live

Read John 20:1-18 and Colossians 3:1-4

These words from Good Friday still echo in my ears: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus may have known his fate, that he had to put to death at the hands of sinners, but revealed in these haunting words recorded in the Gospel of Luke, is a man pleadings for his life.

It’s said that when people die, our lives flash before us. And for many who know they are going to die weeksor months before it happens, they often spend those last precious moments remembering better days. In the time leading up to the crucifixion, perhaps Jesus was thinking back on his own life, on happier times, on the most memorable moments. Like the day he was baptized. The first time he taught in the temple at age 12. The day he overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple because they were disgracing it. His first miracle: when he turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. When he fed 5,000 who had come to hear him preach. Probably even closer to his heart were the miracles when he healed people: the blind man, the woman who kept bleeding, the boy with a demon. And certainly the people he actually brought back from the dead: Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus. Do you think that when Jesus was teaching in the temple or saving people’s lives he imagined that one day he would be executed for his actions? How had Jesus’ life lead to the place of the skull?

To say that Jesus might have been disappointed in the way his life was turning out is a gross understatement. Even if Jesus fully understood God’s whole plan from start to finish, I imagine there was still a part of him that was in despair, devastated, forlorn as he waited for the guards to come get him.

His disciples were bereft as well. They were more than confused about the sudden turning of events; they were bewildered. One day, Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, where a huge crowd of people waited to honor him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And then only a few days later, another crowd gathers around him, this time shouting, “Crucify him!”

And with the crucifixion, things only got worse. The disciples were a mess: disillusioned, disenfranchised, despairing. Mary Magdalene could not sleep. She went to Jesus’ tomb in the darkness. As if her grief weren’t pain enough, when she gets there, she finds that Jesus body is gone. She runs back to tell the others, thinking it was stolen. Mary says, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.” Simon Peter and John run to see, and when they see that it is as Mary said, they leave perplexed for “no one yet knew from the Scriptures that he had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back home” (John 20:9-10). But not Mary, she stays in the graveyard and weeps.

It’s quite easy to understand the disciples’ disillusionment and Jesus’ dread considering the events surrounding his death. And during Holy Week, as I tried to empathize with what Jesus (mainly) and the disciples (to an extent) were going through, I couldn’t help thinking about the rest of us, and what we go through on a daily basis.

In no way am I equating our suffering with Christ Jesus’ suffering on the cross, but still, our pain and suffering, our disillusionments and dread, our disappointments and devastations are real as well. When the person you love betrays you, abandons you or dies, the pain is real. When the people you care about and share your life with hurt you, criticize you, humiliate you, the pain is real. And each of us, if hit hard enough or beat-down long enough will bruise, will break; parts of us may even die.

Life is hard enough without other people’s contributions. We don’t even need other people to oppress us because we are often our own oppressors. We dig ourselves holes that we can’t climb out of; many of us torment and fail ourselves on a daily basis. We prohibit ourselves from living to our full potential, and then blindly grope through life searching for meaning, purpose and fulfillment in those things which cannot fulfill.

Combine these factors with the basic human experience that life often doesn’t turn out they way we want it to or the way we think it should, that we are continually disappointed and frustrated by the way the world turns, and you can see how even though the crucifixion took place over 2000 years ago, the thoughts and the feelings of all people are basically the same.

To be disappointed, to be disillusioned, to be disenfranchised, to dread, to despair is the sad dilemma of the human heart and spirit. And over time, we may get worn down to the point that we no longer recognize ourselves. We might stop dreaming of great pursuits and going out to accomplish great feats. We might stop dreaming all together. Instead of looking up and around expectantly with hope in our eyes, we cast our gazes downwards and allow our shoulders to slump. We shuffle and wander immersed in the chaos of the world swirling around us. It is as though, through the process of living, our spirits, which were born to fly, develop crippled wings.

If Jesus death were the end of the story, I don’t know where I, where we would go from here…. But it’s not!

Because on the third day, Jesus Christ rose from the dead! And this is the hope of all people. On Palm Sunday, Jesus was celebrated like a human king would be. On Good Friday, Jesus was tortured like the worst criminal would be. But on Easter Sunday, we finally acknowledge him as Lord and Savior, as the One who infuses this physical world with the divine and gives to us the life of the divine.

On Good Friday, the world as we know it stopped, and everything that needed to die died with him. And when God raised Jesus on the third day, God made the most powerful and decisive statement yet. Death does not win. Corruption and destruction and evil are not the most powerful forces in the universe. God is. Life is. And so with Jesus, God raised up a new creation infused with life and spirit that can never die, that when broken, will always be renewed. In raising Jesus, God raised all of his children as joint heirs with Jesus in the kingdom of God; God set hope in our hearts and gave us possibilities that will never be exhausted.

As the Psalmist proclaims, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). This one special morning, Easter morning, makes every morning new.

“The collateral implications of this [resurrection] message are radical and comprehensive. Anticipation displaces dread. Regret gives way to equanimity. Cynicism vanishes before joy. Self-control conquers addiction. Purpose usurps futility. Reconciliation overtakes estrangement. Inner peace calms disquiet and distraction. Creativity banishes boredom. Death will give way to life, darkness to light, fear to confidence, anxiety to calm, and despair to hope. These collateral implications are something like the fulfillment of your deepest desires, your wildest dreams, your fondest hopes, and your secret wishes, only in this scenario your hopes, dreams, desires and wishes originate from the heart of God” and are made possible for you by the power and love of God” (Clendenin, Dan. The Journey with Jesus. March 21, 2005.

This new, abundant, eternal life that you are being given, you might say to yourself, “But where is it? I remain plagued by the same old problems.” That is because we have to live into our new life. Day after day, we must commit ourselves to discipleship and allow ourselves to be transformed. Figuring out how to live into our resurrected life is what this life is about. And everything, from taking out the garbage, to handling your responsibilities, to kissing a child good night is an opportunity. As long as your heart is in Christ Jesus and you are letting the Holy Spirit guide you, you will continue to live a new kind of life. As Colossians says, “Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life, is with Christ in God.” In victory!

“So if you’re serous about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it” (Colossians 3: 1). Stop shuffling along with your eyes on the ground wrapped up in obsessive and destructive thoughts, speech and action. Lift your eyes to the hills from where your help comes that they might sparkle with hope; open your hearts to the mystery and believe in the power of God. Let your spirits be healed and raise up your wings, ready to fly. Because today, and everyday that Christ rules, you can soar. Or, as Gil Atkinson once said, "You are one of a kind; therefore, no one can really predict to what heights you might soar. Even you will not know until you spread your wings!"

It makes sense that after Jesus rose from the dead, he approached one of his closest disciples whose spirit was cast down, who was crying. Jesus said, Mary, “Why do you weep?” (John 20: 15). She did not yet understand that life itself had changed.

And it is no wonder that once Mary recognizes Jesus, she praises him and runs to tell the others in awe and in hope, “I saw the Master!” (John 20: 18). He is in the land of living. A Living Lord. A Risen God. Look for him that you may find. Because he lives, you also will live!

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