Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Exclamation Point

Easter is the biggest, most celebrated day in Christianity, and everybody approaches it differently.  If the different approaches  to Easter were punctuation marks, some people would be commas—a brief pause in their regular schedule, and then they move on.  Some people be periods: a full stop, marking the end.  For them Easter is a ritual, and an empty one at that.  If they go to church it’s because it feels wrong not to be in church on Easter, or because it makes mom and dad happy, but it doesn’t really mean anything.  Some would be question marks— they are perplexed, perhaps doubtful, not sure what it’s all about, but they are also curious, seeking, wanting to know more about this resurrection and eternal life and Jesus.  Some people are exclamation points—loud and excited about everything that resurrection Sunday is about.  And some are semi-colons—anticipating what comes next.
For the followers of Jesus, that first Easter Sunday was a period.  The end.  The last three years of their life a waste, the future holding no promise.   Take Mary Magdalene, for instance.  She didn’t go to the tomb to meet a resurrected Lord, she went to anoint the body of a dead man.  When she saw that the rock covering the entrance had been rolled away, she didn’t even go in, because she knew what had happened—someone had stolen his body.  Having made him suffer such a shameful death, would they now prevent him from having a proper burial?  In despair she ran to tell Peter and John.
They were upset also, but they had to go see for themselves.  Maybe they would find some clues as to who took him and where they took him.  So they ran to go see.  John got there first, but for some reason didn’t go in the tomb, perhaps out of respect, or fear, or just not wanting to believe that it was true.  Peter, always one to act first and think later, pushed past John and went in.  But instead of an exclamation point, there were only question marks for Peter.  Luke 24:25 says that Peter went away wondering to himself what had happened. 
Later on, when Thomas heard the news, his reaction was one of doubt and disbelief.  In some ways there reactions were similar—there was doubt, disbelief, and despair.  But each was starting from a different point.  What’s interesting to me is that, when Jesus finally appears to them, he doesn’t really chastise them for their reactions.  Even when Thomas finally gets to see him, Jesus gently says, “Peace be with you.” 
God understands where you are.  He just doesn’t want you to stay there.
Seeing-and-believing is not usually a one-time event.  It’s more a process.  We all need time before we can see and understand spiritual events.  Different things speak to us.  Take Mary again.  After she returns to the tomb, she looks in and sees two angels, but obviously doesn’t recognize them as angels.  I guess in her confusion it didn’t strike her as funny that two guys would be sitting in Jesus’ tomb asking her why she’s crying.  Then she meets Jesus but doesn’t recognize him just yet.  She thinks he’s the gardener—which is just full of meaning, being that Paul describes Jesus as the second Adam, the original gardener, man in perfect relationship with the Father.  So she’s getting it, but she doesn’t realize that she’s getting it.  Sometimes faith comes to a person like that.  We start connecting the dots, maybe even subconsciously, and gradually a picture emerges that makes sense. 
But for most of them this wasn’t the case.  They couldn’t make sense of the things that they saw and heard—and who could blame them?  It’s all so extraordinary, completely out of their experience.  They had never seen anything like it and so they couldn’t expect it.  It took a personal encounter with Jesus.  They had to meet him.  Mary talked with angels and didn’t understand, but when Jesus called her by name, she recognized him.  Can you imagine what it must have been like for her?  She wanted to throw her arms around him, as we would have also.  Peter went from denying Jesus to being such a bold witness to the resurrection that he was willing to die for the cause of Christ.  What caused the change?  He had a personal encounter with Jesus.
All of Thomas’ doubts went away when Jesus showed him his nail prints and the scar in his side.  And then Jesus said something that is for us today: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."  He’s speaking to us.  We don’t have the privilege of actually seeing with our own eyes the risen savior; we live by faith, not by sight. 
Can you have a personal encounter with Jesus now, today?  Of course.  After all, what good is a risen savior if he’s absent from our personal experiences?  Jesus is alive, he’s real, and he wants to have a personal relationship with you that is based on love and grace—and obedience.  And that is Easter with an exclamation point.

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