Monday, April 25, 2011

The Stone to the Tomb Has Been Rolled Back; The Gates of Heaven Are Open

Humanity is capable of heinous crimes, breaking laws set by both man and God. History is filled with tales of entire people being enslaved, oppressed and slain, the Israelites, the Incas, the Mayans, Native Americans, the Jews.

In more recent history, we have seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears how in Rwanda more than 1 million people were killed, and on this very day, Kaddafi is still using the Libyan army to kill its own citizens.

In light of all this, it is hardly notable that one, simple man was killed by the Roman authorities some 2,000 years ago. One more crucifixion in Rome was not history in the making, and Jesus of Nazareth surely wasn’t the only innocent man who hung on a cross.

And yet, we know his story better than we know almost any other. How the crowds shouted, “Crucify him.” How the sun refused to shine on that fateful day, how the curtain of the temple was torn in two after he uttered his last words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

What makes Jesus story so exceptional is not his death wrought by human hands. We have come to expect such foolishness from ourselves and our peers. What makes Jesus story so exceptional is that he was resurrected from the dead because God’s power is greater than any horrible act man can commit.

Now some of you may be filled with doubt about God’s power in your life because of the suffering and limitations you have known. All of us have had our hopes disappointed over and over again. All of us have been sick and in despair in our hearts, in our minds and in our bodies, and have wondered, “How long, o Lord, must I wait for you to rescue me?” All of us have been hurt or betrayed by those around us, and because evil looks like its winning, we have doubted the power and benevolence of God.

Even Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest companions, had no idea what God was capable of doing. She witnessed Jesus hanging on the cross; she cried as they laid him in the tomb, and when she went to sit with Jesus’ body in the early hours of the morning, when it was still dark, her eyes were not the eyes of faith.

Jesus’ body was missing. Because she knew the realities of the world so well, she did not hope for resurrection, she immediately assumed more evil on the part of humanity. She thought Jesus’ body had been stolen.

It wasn’t until Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves that it was empty did another reality come into the picture. It was John who first believed as he put two and two together. He remembered everything Jesus had said, and what the scriptures said, “that he must rise from the dead,” and as he figured it out, the power of God, which seemed like a distant reality before, became very real.

You see, Good Friday is about what people are capable of. Easter Sunday is about what God is capable of.

And God is capable of taking a person’s worst fate, suffering, pain and death, and bringing forth from it a person’s greatest blessing, joy, love and life.

There’s a song that very popular on the radio right now by Nicki Minaj called, “Moment For Life.” And in that song she says, “I believe that life is a prize, but to live doesn’t mean you’re alive.” I like this lyric because I can relate to it. We all know what it means to have blood pumping through our veins but to feel dead inside.

Death is not only physical; it is spiritual and emotional. When we suffer from depression, fear, anxiety, boredom, anger, guilt, addiction, we are experiencing a limited form of life.

But God has other plans for us. God wants to move us from these deadly states to lively states, such as happiness, confidence, contentment, inspiration, understanding, goodness, freedom.

Today is the day when we celebrate life. Death does not have the final say, God has the final say, and God has firmly declared in the resurrection of Jesus that life triumphs over the evils of humanity and death in whatever forms they present themselves.

Scripture says, because Jesus lives, we too shall live.

What this means is that in any way that you experience the limitations of this world, in any way you are chained down, beaten down, let down, God is proclaiming to you that this is not your destiny, this is not the end state of your life. You too will experience resurrection.

In life, we need each other to keep one another believing. I need you to testify to me about the goodness of God. I need to hear your stories of how the Living God has been merciful to you, how God has been gracious to you, how God has blessed you. And you need the same from me. One person’s faith helps to light up another person’s faith.

Mary Magdalene was struggling with her faith until Jesus called her by name in the garden. But once her eyes were opened to God’s power in this world, what did she go and do? She went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and it was through her testimony that others first believed.

It is through our experiences of the Risen Lord and by living together enlightened by God’s power in our lives that we become fully alive.

My sisters and brothers, the stone to the tomb has been rolled back, the gates of heaven have been open to all of us.

Heaven is not simply some reality we are waiting for later, after we die. Heaven is also the possibility for us to have abundant life now.

Where are the pearly gates? They are your mind and heart, which this day have been opened through your faith in God’s power to raise Jesus from the dead.

Today, we live in heaven, together.

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