Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunrise or Easter Day
Job 19:23-27
Psalm 118:12-19
1 Corinthians 15:51-57
John 20:1-18
Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm 16
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah.

I think that the Easter Sunday Midweek Oasis is one of the most difficult to write, especially when I’ve been following the footsteps of Jesus on the other days of this week. How can we talk about the resurrection when we haven’t yet seen Jesus die on the cross?

In the stories for Holy week it seems as if the world is in control. But all through this week, the journey happens only according to God’s good and perfect will. Jesus is in control, as Max Lucado says, “He chose the nails.” The chief priests may seem to be acting on their own, but God knew from the beginning how this would come to an end. Judas was chosen to be the betrayer. This wasn’t an accident; it didn’t happen by human will, but by the hand of God.

So, too, was the resurrection. Look at the Old Testament scriptures that are used on Easter. Job says, “But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, And at last he will stand up upon the earth.” The psalmist says, “Jehovah is my strength and song; And he is become my salvation.” And “For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.” Isaiah says, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” These are all promises that point to the work of Jesus on the cross. He is our Redeemer. He is our Salvation. He gives us life. His new covenant will bring new things to the world. It was planned, and the promises were fulfilled on the cross and then the empty tomb.

Think about the life given to us by faith. Isaiah talks about that promised world. Jerusalem will rejoice and God’s people will sing. God will rejoice because His city and people are happy. There will be no more grief. Children will not die, and people will live long and accomplish everything for which they had been created. They will benefit from their own hard work, and not pass their blessings to others without enjoying them. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith Jehovah.” The world as we know it will be turned upside down. Or should I say, it will be restored to that which God created it to be.

I think on this Wednesday of Holy Week, the emotions of those around Jesus, as well as our own, are confused. The joy of Palm Sunday is still fresh in our mind. The people were in Jerusalem for a festival, the Passover. They were eating and spending time with family, some who they had not seen. Yet, I think there may have been a sense of foreboding. Jesus was not acting like a conquering king and the anger of the chief priests was probably beginning to show in the way they dealt with the crowds. Imagine the damage that can be done with whispers of accusation in the streets? If Jesus was missing, there was nothing to stop the rumors and gossip that can turn a hero into a villain.

But the news on Sunday will be good news. It will be beyond anyone’s expectation. Despite the words of Jesus, even the disciples didn’t know He would be raised. We see these stories from this side of the empty tomb, so even with our purposeful and prayerful journey with Jesus to the cross we do so with a hope that can’t be squelched. We know what they didn’t know. We know that Friday is not the end of the story. The confusion of today, the pain of tomorrow will be overcome with the joy of Easter.

The Lectionary offers two different versions of the story, one for sunrise from Luke the physician and the other for the day from John the Evangelist. There are differences between these encounters, enough to make people question the validity of both, but John and Luke have different purposes and points of view for telling their stories. John’s Gospel was written to prove that Jesus is the embodiment of everything in the Temple: He is the light, the bread, the priest and the sacrifice.

John described the scene as it was witnessed by Mary. “But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping: so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” The Ark of the Covenant—which was the mercy seat of God where the blood of the sacrifice was poured—had two angels, one at each end. It is as if Mary was peeking into the Holy of Holies, where the very presence of God dwelt among men. The stone where Jesus lay was the mercy seat of God. In that scene, we see that God’s forgiveness was complete and the promise that “the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” was fulfilled.

Luke shows us the same scene as a miraculous moment, unexplainable by human experience. It made sense when the angels reminded them of Jesus’ words, but it was still incredible. How could this be? What did it mean? Why has this happened? T he angels asked a simple question, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” But the disciples had no way of answering. Where was Jesus? He is alive?

The witnesses in both stories shared what they saw with their friends, but we are left with the question of whether or not they believed. John, ‘the other disciple,’ seems to have believed what he saw, but did he believe that Jesus had been raised? Or did he simply believe what the women told him? The disciples didn’t believe the women, but Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb anyway in Luke’s story. Then he went back to where they were staying, scratching his head.

We know what happens because we have seen the whole story; we know that eventually they go out and tell the world that Jesus is alive. But isn’t it funny that on this Easter Sunday we are still left with so many questions? We usually think that Easter is the end of the story, but it really is just another beginning. In the coming weeks we will see them as they are transformed into more than disciples. They will become apostles. They will be filled with the Holy Spirit, believe and understand everything. We, too, are transformed by the knowledge that the Spirit gives us, about Jesus and God, about how to live in this world and what God is calling us to do. Easter is the beginning of our new life in a new covenant.

And while there is a great deal of work to be done, Easter is a reminder that it all stands on the promise of the empty tomb. The empty tomb means that our tombs will also be empty, that we will be raised with Christ and that we will rejoice in His presence for eternity. God makes so many promises—to the poor, to the lame, to the deaf, to the possessed, to the imprisoned, to the lonely, to the outcast, to the ill and more—but the promise of Easter is the foundation of it all. Founded on the hope of eternity, God’s people can then go out and face the reality of the world in which we live. That means we might face suffering and pain.

This doesn’t make sense to the people of this world. They see our celebration on Easter and think it is foolishness. What good is an empty tomb when people are suffering? What good is eternity when there is physical or emotional pain in this world? They tell us that if our God is real, then there should be no suffering. They tell us that if our God really loves us, then we should be filled with good things and satisfied in our flesh. They think that real promise and blessing is in the fulfillment of every desire. Quite frankly, there are many Christians who think that faith is a guarantee for good feelings, self-satisfaction and happiness. But Jesus never promised that our life in His Kingdom would be easy. The joy of Easter is often followed by persecution by those who do not believe.

There comes a time when our faith necessarily leads us to confront the world, but we do so with the promise of Easter. The Christians in Paul's day were persecuted because they did not conform to the world in which they lived. They refused to accept what was acceptable in their culture and society. They were pitied because they the promise of faith seemed so distant and unattainable. Why reject the pleasure of this life for something that seems so unreal? Especially since life in Christ was often such a hardship.

But Paul reminds us that whatever happens in this world is nothing compared to what we will receive. Paul writes, “If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.” Christian faith does not guarantee a charmed life. What it does guarantee is that we will join our Lord Jesus in eternity. He was the first of many, raised to new life to live forever in a world that will be transformed. It is a world we see promised in those Old Testament texts, where the wolf and the lamb will lie together and God’s people will enjoy the work of their hands for eternity in the presence of their Father in heaven and their Lord Savior, Jesus Christ.

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