TEXTS: Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18
On Easter Sunday, we gather in excitement and joy to celebrate the power of Christ’s resurrection. It’s a special day the world over. It’s the day that we’ve been preparing for all through the many weeks of Lent. It’s the day we’ve been preparing for all weekend, as well—and not just spiritually either, but with cooking and baking and shopping. Today is special. For, as the old hymn proclaims, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”
Yes, there is something wonderful about Easter. But there are also some extremely powerful—and perhaps even threatening—things about the meaning of this day. These are the things that we don’t particularly want to rack our brains over as we’re dyeing eggs or biting the ears off a chocolate rabbit.
Because, no matter how much we like to think about Easter as the time of eggs and bunnies and giggling children, this is the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ return to life. I think most of us would prefer to face the consequences of eating twenty chocolate rabbits, rather than face the real power behind Easter.
That’s because the power of Christ’s resurrection lies in its challenge to us as human beings. While it certainly does something for us—on our behalf—it also does something to us; it changes us! And when someone or something changes us, well … it isn’t usually comfortable, is it?
Today, I’d like to highlight what I think are two of the biggest challenges posed to us by Christ’s resurrection.
The first is that in Christ’s death and resurrection we have the assurance that God really, honestly understands what it’s like to live and die as a human being. In taking on the flesh and blood of humanity, God experiences both the highs and the lows of being like us.
What is the challenge here? I think the challenge lies in our relationship with God—this relationship in which we so often find ourselves wanting to say, “God, you just don’t understand!”
God, you just don’t understand how bad things are. You don’t understand just how deeply I’ve been hurt and betrayed. God, you just don’t understand how much I miss that person I loved and lost. God, you just don’t understand how lonely or sad or anxious or brooding I feel. God, you just don’t understand me!
It’s hard for us to believe that God does understand. Yet, surely the meaning of incarnation is just exactly this: God knows what a difficult life this is to live. God knows what it means to be in physical or emotional pain. God knows what it’s like to suffer loss.
The challenge of Easter lies in the truth that—just as God knows what it’s like to suffer as a human being—God also knows what it is like to transcend such suffering. In Christ’s resurrection, we experience the hope of new life. Christ died, and was buried, and on the third day rose again—rose to offer us the promise of something greater than our suffering. Yes, we do experience horrific pain in life; but just like Christ, we can be renewed by the power of God.
Now, many times we think of that renewal as happening only in the future—in what some refer to as “that great getting’ up morning” in the afterlife. But Easter renewal can happen in this life, as well. If we believe that Christ’s resurrection means that he lives on today; if we believe it means that he is present with us now; if we believe it means that he is present inside us and works through us; then we have to be open to the possibilities of Easter miracles happening in our lives now.
Many of us can point to times when we’ve had “Easter moments”—times when we thought we were finished… but then were miraculously raised to new life.
For some of us, those miracles happened in hospital rooms, or detox centres, or prison cells. For others of us, the miracle took some other form: the return of a loved one we never thought we’d see again; an experience of receiving forgiveness, of getting a second chance; or maybe—suddenly, miraculously—finding a way to accept something we thought we could never accept.
It’s those experiences of newness, of hope, of change, that have kept our faith going, even through the worst of times. Easter is real, and it happens both in the future of the hereafter, and in the now of today. Resurrection is real.
O.K. That’s the first challenge offered to us by Easter. The second challenge is maybe even a bigger one—and it’s about inclusivity and welcome. It’s the challenge that confronted Peter when he received the invitation to visit Cornelius the centurion. This was a scandalous thing for a Jew to even consider, to enter the home of a gentile! And not just any gentile, but a Roman! And not just a Roman, but an officer in the army which occupied Peter’s homeland!
It couldn’t have been easy for Peter to accept that invitation, but he did—because, as he explained: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34b-35)
Or—to look at it from another perspective—consider what the apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:21-22)
Everyone—absolutely everyone—ends up in the trap of death. No one can escape it. And—in the metaphorical language of Paul—this can be related back to the “fall” of humankind which occurred through the one person called Adam. Like Adam, Christ is one person—and through that one person of Christ, we can all experience new life. It’s available to anyone who wants it! And that’s a big challenge for us today.
It means that Christ offered new life to those who betrayed him and denied him and killed him. It means that Easter is just as much for the Romans and for Pilate—and even for Judas—as it is for me and for you. Christ Jesus will welcome all who come to him—even the people we can’t stand!
Jesus wants to give life to everyone—even the people we most fear and despise; even the people who have abused us—who have hurt us so badly. They can experience Easter just like we do. If you’re like me, accepting that is a huge challenge! Without God’s help, it’s a challenge I could never hope to meet.
So—to face these challenges—how much help does God give to us? A lot, actually. For the message of Easter is as powerful as it is simple: God is indeed with us. God knows just what we’re going through, because God has gone through it, also.
On Easter morning, we know that Christ is risen. Christ is risen today, for us! And on account of that, Christ does something to us. Easter means that there is available to us resurrection in our lives—right here, and right now. And it is not just for us, but for all those around us—even the most unlikely people. That is the challenge of Easter—and it is also the gracious gift of God.
Blessed are we, if we accept it.