Benediction Online

Sunday, April 04, 2010

What is Easter All About?

A teacher stood in front of her second grade class and asked “Who knows what Easter is all about?” As the children’s puzzled faces stared back at the teacher, one small hand darted up. “Yes Billy” responded the teacher.

“It’s when everyone gets together and eats turkey” he said.

“No, that’s Thanksgiving not Easter” replied the teacher.

“I know”, said Sarah, “It’s when you get lots of presents and put up decorations.”

“No, that’s Christmas”.

The class sat in silence for a few seconds then John raised his hand and said, “It’s when Jesus was killed and put into a cave with a stone in front of it, and…”

(Now, thought the teacher, we’re on the right track.)

John continued, “… and then everyone waits for Jesus to come out of the cave to find out if he sees his shadow!”[1]

Easter isn’t primarily about spring or groundhogs anymore than it’s about bunnies and chocolate. Easter is about new life, new abundant life which is available to us in Jesus. In the northern hemisphere it is the great festival of spring, but the new and abundant life we celebrate is not the turning of the year, the return of longer days and the new growth of creation. The life we celebrate is the life we find in Jesus’ resurrection.

Most of us have grown up with the idea that Jesus rose from the dead – whether or not we were raised in a Christian family we have heard for as long as we can remember that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s difficult for us to capture the astonishment the disciples felt when Jesus’ body simply wasn’t there, and then when he began to appear among them. It’s difficult to capture the amazing joy and so perhaps it’s easier to look at the beauty around us at this time of year and image that as being the new life that Jesus brings.

But the new life of the resurrection is different. It is inner life, it is abundant, it is eternal, it is freedom; it is lived in relationship with God. Jesus said ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you’. That’s a disturbingly close relationship. In order to experience this new inner life as more than an abstract concept we have to get intimate with God.

We were created to live in intimate relationship with God and we have within us a longing to draw close, yet at the same time we have within us the urge to move away and ignore God. That is usually the stronger urge, and we have to return again and again. Jesus’ death and resurrection has freed us from sin – freed us from separation from God. We are no longer separate because God became human and God experienced mortality but changed it forever. Jesus’ resurrection life gives us the power to resist that temptation to move away. We are now empowered to live every day in intimacy with the divine. That’s an amazing thought. We are empowered and invited to live every day in intimacy with the all-compassionate and holy God.

God in Jesus has experienced what it means to be human and to be betrayed by his friends but God did not respond in anger and spite. This is an entirely new vision of God. This is not the vindictive, judgmental God who will punish us for the least infraction, but a God who welcomes us back. A God who comes looking for us. A God who shows up when we least expect it. A God who is not in the tomb where we thought we had put him for safe keeping, but is alive and interacting with us here and now.

And that is what gives us life. Interacting with God. It’s a challenging life because we are still human and relating intimately with God means allowing ourselves to be transformed, and actively taking part in that transformation. Walking with God means realizing our own Christ-like natures, which are not natural for us. It’s not natural for humans to be Christ-like. It is natural for us to be self-centered, fearful and angry. As we have been with Jesus during this Holy Week we have seen the opposite in his behavior. He was giving, loving and accepting. That’s what it means to be Christ-like.

Life with God is life more abundant because it is life lived as it was meant to be. That is the great gift of Jesus’ resurrection. We do not need to be afraid of dying. If we are not afraid then we can take risks - we do not have to be hoarders, holding on tightly to things or people because we are afraid of what will happen. Neither do we have to seek out every opportunity for self-fulfillment because fulfillment comes not from our activities but from our inner life in Christ.

This is a huge opportunity. Whatever is getting in the way of your being Christ-like can be moved just as the stone was moved, just as Jesus body was transformed in the resurrection. Whatever is getting in the way can be transformed. If you want it to be. That transformation may come in a flash – there are many wonderful testimonies of people whose lives have been radically changed in a few minutes – or it may come slowly with hard work. It may be transformation directly in your experience of God’s loving and challenging presence, or it may be mediated through human interactions. However it is for you, the opportunity is there – you too can become the Christ-like being you were meant to be. You too can know abundant life. You can become the person you were created to be. It is never too late.

Before I close, I want to come back to the bunnies and groundhogs. As humans we have a huge responsibility, because it is through us that the whole of creation experiences resurrection and redemption. As humanity starts to walk in intimacy with God and really walks its talk, so the planet will be healed. The call to become Christ-like, the call to experience abundant life, is not a call to feel better. It’s a call to get real.

So this morning, as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, as we experience once again the joy and the hope that is his gift to us, are you going to be like the disciples who heard the story of the women but their words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. Or are you going to let the resurrection life of Jesus enter every part of your body, mind and spirit and start anew the great adventure of intimacy with God?

[1] With thanks to Beverly Hutchison McNeff in The Holy Encounter, Mar/April 2010