“He lives”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 25:6-9

1 Corinthians 15:19-28

Mark 16:1-8

Johnny Carson once said, “You know it’s going to be one of those days when your twin sister forgets your birthday.” I knew it was “one of those days” this morning when I woke up with a snootfull of allergies.

Easter is not one of those days. As a matter of fact, it is not like any other day. In an article titled, “What Easter Means to Me,” Dr. Oswald Hoffmann wrote: “It means that life is changed. It is life all right, but it is changed. Easter means that death is changed. It is still death, but it is changed.” Most, if not all children of God, know what Dr. Hoffmann means. At the same time, none of us can imagine what Easter meant to those first Easter Christians.

Many of you are going to read this “Edit-O-Earl” before Friday. Consequently before you ever go to Good Friday services to remember that Christ died, you will, or at least could have read that Christ also rose–He lives! I’m sorry to “let the cat out of the bag,” so to speak, but it’s true. I know it, and so do most of you.

We were all born at a time in history, when the story of the crucifixion and resurrection were already old news. Not one of us celebrated our first birthday without having been around for the world’s honoring of a Crucified Lord and celebrating a Risen Savior. We may not have been involved, we probably didn’t understand what it was all about, but it happened within our first year of life and has happened again every year since then. It’s not like anyone has been trying to keep it a secret.

I find it interesting that the first people to hear that Jesus is alive were also among the last to see Him dead. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and John, accompanied Joseph of Arimathea when he wrapped the body in a shroud and placed it in his own tomb. These two women and Salome (probably the wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John) returned to the grave on the first day of the week. I believe we can share with them most of the exhilaration they experienced in learning that He had risen. I know we share the ultimate meaning in terms of our own eternal life and resurrection. On the other hand, I think we miss out on the devastating effect His death must have had on them.

These women and Jesus’ closest disciples had followed Jesus for many years. They had seen signs and miracles that simply stagger the imagination. They had come to believe that He was indeed the Messiah, the One sent by God Almighty. Some had even seen His transfiguration. Most knew He was both God and man–the Son of the Living God. They had heard from His own lips promises that you and I can only read. They had been filled with anticipation about all that He would yet say and do and become.

They heard Him say such things as: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News … Follow me; I will make you fishers of men … I am the light of the world … I am the Good Shepherd … I am the vine; you are the branches … If the Son sets you free, you will be truly free … I am the way, the truth and the life.” Then, suddenly, He was dead. They had planned on accompanying Him as long as they lived. They counted on His being with them when questions arose, when trouble came, when there was danger. Instead, He was gone and they were alone.

Unless we can fully imagine the thrill of being with Him, talking, traveling, eating and drinking with Him, discovering new insights into both God and ourselves every day, we cannot appreciate the horror, disappointment and empty loneliness of His death. What would they do now? Who, if anyone, would teach them? When storms came, who would say with total conviction, “Don’t be afraid”? What should they believe about Him now? The Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers had killed Him–what would happen to His followers? With Him, the possibilities for their lives were without limitation. Without Him, they were lost. They were nothing.

Then, just as suddenly as He had been taken from them, He returned. The mixture of shock, astonishment, unbelief, and exhilarating joy that they must have felt is even harder to imagine than their earlier feeling when He died. The women arrived at the tomb very early on Sunday morning, intent on anointing a dead body, but it wasn’t there. Instead a young man dressed in white told them, “He has risen!” If they could believe him, all the possibilities for their lives had opened again. Not just the grief, but all the fears, disillusionment, and loneliness could be over. Jesus was with them again.

The young man didn’t afford them the luxury of sitting around, contemplating the glory and mystery of it all. He sent them to the disciples and Peter with this message: “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

The Bible has very little to say about survival–staying alive–even staying alive eternally. Jesus did not come to show us how to struggle through the problems of living and dying, but how to rise above them. He shows us how to live and die victoriously. The great news to the women and the disciples was less that He had risen, and more that He was alive. That is also the message for us this Easter: “Jesus Christ is alive and well and living in your neighborhood.” He lives wherever His people follow Him in rising to the occasions with which life confronts them.

In 1983, Doug Hooper wrote an article for Grit magazine in which he related the following events: “I once met a clean-cut youth of about 15 in the juvenile hall. He confided in me that he had been arrested six times. ‘Why do you choose to live like this?’ I asked. ‘I really don’t know why,’ he replied. ‘I guess it’s just a case of playing follow-the-leader.’ I shook him up a little when I told him, ‘You are not playing follow-the-leader; you are playing follow-the-loser!'”

I choose to follow the Leader. Christ lives and is with us always. I refuse to act as if He’s dead and gone. Some of you have difficulties in your lives that make me ashamed to have even mentioned my allergies. All of us have the living Christ in our lives. Sometimes I think we all need to be ashamed of how little that shows.

Christ’s returning to life was so significant an event to the early Christians, that they had the audacity to change their observance of one of the Ten Commandments. Instead of observing the Holy Day, every Saturday, they chose to remember the Lord’s Resurrection every Sunday. The possibilities of life with Christ are as wide open today as they ever have been.

The Christian life is more than a brisk walk from cradle to coffin–no matter how exuberantly we travel. Just as life lasts longer than the period of time between having no teeth, so it is also better than just filling, biding or spending time. We are not alone. Jesus lives, and He is with us.

One of Jesus’ last statements–perhaps His very last on the cross was a three-word sentence. When the time comes for us to change living quarters–from earth to the mansions prepared–will we say “It is finished,” or will we wish we had started. Christ announced the completion of His work of salvation. Your forgiveness and mine had been bought, paid for, signed, sealed and delivered. Our eternal life had been won, and has been freely given to us in faith. His work is finished … or is it? The very last words He spoke at His Ascension remind us that His work goes on. We are (or are not) finishing it, and He is with us.

Three years ago in another Edit-O-Earl, I mentioned that Mark’s Gospel appears to have ended with this Sunday’s Gospel lesson. But someone added a few verses so that Mark’s story does not conclude with the somewhat barren statement: “So they went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

As many as four additions have been found to Mark’s Gospel. A few billion are appropriate. The young man dressed in a white robe gave the women a mission: “Go! Tell!” We still have that mission. We are the rest of the story of Mark. All over our neighborhoods and all over our world, people are trapped in sin and death. They need forgiveness; they need eternal life; they need our Savior; they need us to go and tell them! The Good News about Jesus is that He can and will rise up in them. He lives!

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