Summary: Resurrection isn’t just about life after death; it is also about the promise of abundant life-now!
[I have a tradition when preaching on Easter Sunday to insert "Christ Is Risen" as often as possible, to which the congregation respond, "Christ is risen indeed. Hallelujah!"]
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!) Shouts of alleluia ring out; flowers adorn our sanctuary; people are dressed in their finest attire; everyone has a smile on their face. We are here to celebrate the resurrection in grand style! Christ is risen! (he is risen indeed) And because Christ is risen (he is risen indeed), we too have the promise of eternal life. Because the tomb was empty on Easter, we know that no obstacle is too big for God. No matter how final death may be in our human reality, it is not the end of it all. Since Jesus rose from the grave, we can see the grave as a blessed gate to eternal life. Because Jesus overcame death, we also overcome death.
As fabulous as the promise of resurrection is though, Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just about pie in the sky when you die. That is a common theological misunderstanding of the resurrection story. Resurrection isn’t just about life after death; it is also about the promise of abundant life-now! It has to be! Otherwise, we might as well just convert just the moment before we die. If the resurrection was only about life after death, then instead of being here in worship, we should all be at home with actuarial tables, calculating the moment of our own death so that we could turn to Christ just in the nick of time. But Christianity is not just a religion of death - it also holds the promise of life.
The resurrection is incredible and it restructures reality, as it exists today! When Jesus was raised from the dead, he did more than just give us a reason to believe (e.g. life after death). He also gave us a reason to live! Because Jesus is alive beyond the cross, we see that God can use events that seem like the most wretched failure. Because Jesus is alive beyond the grave, we have the courage to escape from the hurtful places that entomb us. Because Jesus offers us life that lasts beyond death, we can face our own death without fear. Bill Gaither wrote a great hymn called "Because He Lives". The chorus goes like this: "Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because he lives." Jesus’ resurrection gives us reason to live - today! Right now!
Easter should not just be a sweet holiday when we all put on our finest clothes and our widest smiles. Certainly we should be happy! Yes, the resurrection should bring us joy, and be a time of festive worship. But Easter should also be a wake up call to life for us. Easter is the awesome, transforming, life-changing power of God shaking each and every one of us awake to new life in Christ now - not just after death. The empty tomb should transform us. The resurrection should stir us to new hope and new courage.
This week, I had the opportunity to see the musical "Ragtime" at the Fisher Theatre. Although the theme of religion is but an undercurrent in the musical, one storyline made me think of the transforming power of new life and God restructuring priorities. "Ragtime" takes place at the turn of the 20th century. Mother must face daily life without Father as he was traveling on an expedition with Admiral Perry. Through a series of events, she finds herself telling police officers that she will provide for this black woman and her illegitimate newborn baby. (Remember the historical context…) She is somewhat surprised at her own words, astounded that the offer came from her mouth, but she is certain that she doesn’t want the woman and her child to be out on the street.
As she contemplates what kind of life she has brought upon herself, she sings a song to her absent husband, who always had all the answers for her. "What kind of woman would do what I’ve done - open the door to such chaos and pain! You would have gently closed the door, and gently turned the key, and gently told me not to look, for fear of what I’d see." Mother took a bold step of faith, not even knowing why she had agreed to care for this woman in this way. She could have made a rational decision to turn them away, but she gave of herself instead, agreeing to take care of this baby and its mother. Our Easter faith, remembering that Christ is risen (he is risen indeed) should make us bold enough to give of ourselves for the sake of another human being, as the Mother in this musical did.