Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On the Winning Team!

The tulips are blooming. The trees are popping. And the sun is shining! It is as though earth knows what heaven is up to.

And yet, sorrow still holds its place in this realm. My second cousin, Jamie, had a stroke on Friday at the age of 15! A stroke at 15! He will never play his favorite sport of Rugby again. And poor Trayvon. He will never play again. As if these things aren’t bad enough, the revolution for freedom in Yemen has turned into a massacre.

In light of all this, it is hardly notable that one, simple man was killed 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 others. What makes Jesus story so exceptional is his resurrection, made possible because God’s love and power is greater than any horrible act humanity can commit, because (as the old hymn proclaims) God’s grace is greater than our sin.

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

Easter is packed with meaning and its implications for our lives are numerous. For the young or the young at heart, just the awesome details of the story produce wonder: that the stone was mysteriously rolled back, that angels sat in Jesus’ tomb, that Jesus stood in the garden on the 3rd day and talked with one of his best friends, and that she, Mary, saw him alive after she had seen him dead. Just the story itself is enough to wake you out of your spiritual slumber if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

For the experienced seekers among us, the story’s details, while rich, are nothing compared to what the story means for us as disciples. Experience in this life may have convinced us that death has the final word, but Easter makes us question our certainty. Like Paul we cry out, “Where o death is your victory? Where o death is your sting?”

We realize that it is God who has the victory. It is life that wins. And we say to ourselves, if God raised Jesus from the dead then nothing is impossible for God. Not mortgages, not marriage problems, not infertility issues, not chronic illness, not chronic pain. Because of what God has done in Jesus Christ, we know that anything is possible for us as well.

For the disappointed, the depressed and the doubtful among us, the Easter story proclaims the mindset we have been missing. We find hope in this idea that there is life after death. That there is joy after suffering. That there is a new story being written. While we are trying to figure out our lives, this Easter message breaks in and announces to us, “Because he lives, you also shall live.” Yes! We are no longer held captive by spiritual death but are resurrected with Christ to new life.

And for those who are drawing near to the end of their life on earth, they remember Jesus’ words on the cross: Today, you will be with me in paradise. And Easter for those in this realm is the promise of a future and a new existence. They know that they are headed to the mansion, and they are confident and secure because Jesus has paved the way home.

Easter is a grand proclamation by God that life will not be simple or easy, but it will lead to great rewards in this life and in the next. Christ had to die in order to be resurrected, but resurrected he is!

On this day, Jesus wins. God wins. Life wins. We win. And so now we must ask ourselves, how will we live into the Easter story? Because grace (and the messages of Easter are the very definition of grace) requires a response from us. Now what?

It’s time for us to live like winners. No more walking around with our heads down and shoulders slumped, apologizing for who we are, what we say and what we do. Our team just won and we need to share the glory and the victory with everyone and everything. We need to put our joy out there.

I’m not talking about being conceited and prideful. I’m talking about sharing the love, celebrating the life, proclaiming with exuberance the happiness we feel.

You’ve probably seen a sport’s team celebrate after a hard won victory. In football, they dance in the end zone and dump Gatorade on the coach’s head, in basketball they cut down the nets, in baseball they rush the pitcher’s mound, in soccer they tear off their shirts and run around the field, in tennis they shoot balls high into the stands. In essence, the people express the excitement and enthusiasm they have.

Don’t be afraid, my friends, to express your joy, your victory, your new life! Because come this morning, into this evening and again every day after today, you are on the winning team. Live like a winner.

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