If There Was No Easter
I CORINTHIANS 15:12-22
Would you like to know your future? Lots of people are curious to know what is going to happen to them. When God is at work in your life, your future is predictable. And I believe God is at work in your life, or you wouldnít be here this morning. Perhaps you were invited by a friend, or you responded to our adplaced at your door or in the newspaper, or you consider it your duty, or your mother made you come. Perhaps you have come joyfully because the celebration of Easter is very important to you. For whatever reason, I believe you are here this morning because you are looking for something lasting. Most of us want our lives to be special, to count for something. We want to succeed.
On one of his many airplane trips, General Omar Bradley decided not to dress in military attire, but rather to wear a business suit. A young man who was an extrovert of extroverts sat next to him. He turned to General Bradley and said, "Sir, weíre going to be traveling together for several hours; I think it would be nice if we got to know one another. I would take you to be a banker." Hoping to put a stop to the conversation, General Bradley said, "I am General Omar Bradley, a five-star general in the United States Army. I am head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, Washington, D. C., the United States of America." Undaunted, the young man replied, "Well, sir, that is a very important job; I hope you donít blow it!"
Most of us donít want to blow it. We want to succeed. Because we want our lives to count for something, God has an opening into our lives. I believe God is at work in your life, and I can tell you your future this morning. I can tell you what will happen to you, based on what happened to Jesus his last week on this earth. Throughout this Lenten season we have been traveling through the wilderness as Jesus did, symbolized by the barren branch which today has a beautiful butterfly released from its cocoon. We have been making the point that Jesusí journey is every personís journey. Especially is this true of Jesusí last week on this earth.
I am indebted to Elizabeth Sherrill in Daily Guideposts for this inspiration. Throughout our lives, we walk the final week Jesus walked with his disciples We have an advantage, however, for we have a road map. By reading and studying the biblical accounts of that last week, we can predict what is going to happen to us.
There will be Palm Sundays, like the Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The throngs waved palm branches, cheered Jesus, and threw him a parade. It was a day of triumph. There will be Palm Sundays in your life when you will experience joy, triumph, elation. When God works in your life, there will be times of celebration.
There will be times when Jesus stirs things up. It was probably on Monday when Jesus went to the temple, grabbed a whip, drove out the money changers and thereby challenged the entire sacrificial system of the temple. Jesus stirred things up. He confronted the establishment. Jesus is good at confrontation. He rarely leaves lives the way they are. When God works in your life, there will be constant disruption and turmoil, constant change and challenge. Priorities will be overturned; assumptions swept aside. There will be no status quo.
There will be times of learning. During Jesusí last week, he went to the temple daily to teach. Jesus saw a poor widow put a small coin in the offering which represented a substantial part of all she had, and Jesus taught about sacrificial giving. When God works in your life, you will learn and will want to learn. The Bible begins to come alive as your mind explores and asks those unanswerable questions. You will want to learn more about yourself, and how you fit into Godís plan.
There will be times of healing. The blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them. There will be times when you or your loved ones will regain health. You will pass through dark situations. You will think there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but miraculously, you will persevere. When God works in your life, there will be times of deliverance.
There will be last suppers. It was Thursday when Jesus gathered his disciples for their last meal together. There will be times in your life when you bid farewell to friends and loved ones as they leave this earth.
There will be times of testing. After the supper that Thursday evening, Jesus was arrested. He had predicted that Peter would be tested, and that Peter would fail the test. Peter denied it emphatically, but when the time came and Peter himself faced arrest, Peter denied he had ever known Jesus. When God works in your life, there will be times of testing. Just how strong are you? How courageous are you? What principles do you really have? What are your beliefs? What really are you willing to die for?
There will be times of defeat and death. On Friday of that week, Jesus was crucified. Godís Friday it is called. Over the centuries, "God" became "good". Godís Friday became Good Friday, like "God be with you" became "Goodbye." Good Friday was the darkest of days, an unbearable day. I predict you will experience good Fridays. Tragedy may destroy loved ones, your health, or livelihood. And you may cry out, as did Jesus, "God, where are you? Why have you forsaken me? Lord, why me?"
The tragedy of this journey is that many stop at Friday, as if there were no Easter. I was asked recently, "What difference does Easter make? Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ central to our faith?" Good question, a question that many ask. We seem to know how to get to the cross, but many donít know how to get beyond the cross to Easter, to the open grave. We do a great job with guilt. We all know about guilt, and love to spread it around. We know about suffering. We know about death. Jesusí painful, humiliating death we can understand. We can identify with death, but Easter? Consider the great works of music. Bach, Mozart, Andrew Lloyd Webber have written magnificent passions and requiems, but what about Easter? Last week we heard a moving solo from Webberís Jesus Christ, Superstar. But, Superstar has no Easter, no resurrection. Does Webber not believe in the resurrection? Or, donít we know how to portray, understand, or live Easter?
If there were no Easter, our journeys would end at Good Friday, end in tragedy and defeat. Paul said it well in our Scripture lesson this morning, I Corinthians 15:17, "If Christ has not been raised; your faith is futile. You are still in your sins." If there were no Easter, there would be no salvation from sin, no future, no hope. When a dam was built in Maine, a small town was destined to be flooded. A resident said the most painful part of the experience, besides the relocation, was watching his hometown die. Improvements and repairs ceased. Why paint a house that will soon be covered with water? Why repair a building? Garbage collected in the streets as the process of deterioration set in. He observed, "When there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present." If there were no Easter, Jesus is still in his grave; the future is bleak; the present is barren. As Dante wrote, "Life without hope is hell."
But, because of Easter, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, there is a future. God will triumph. I Corinthians 15:22, "In Christ all will be made alive." There is power in the present when there is hope for the future. Your journey does not end on Good Friday. Elizabeth Sherrill wrote,
Only a week had passed since that triumphant Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem--but what a difference in the little procession that set out now! No cheering crowds, no waving branches. Just a few silent women setting out in the gray dawn to perform the last sad rites at the tomb.
The day that changed human history was not a public occasion but a private one. The day when everlasting life broke into earthly time began not with celebration but with tears.
This is still the way Easter breaks into our lives--when we least expect it, when all seems lost. Thatís when the stone rolls away and the angel speaks and "death is swallowed up in victory."
Because there is Easter, because God raised Jesus from the dead, you can move through Good Fridays. Nowhere is it promised you will avoid Good Fridays, but because God raised Jesus from the dead, you can move through Good Friday into Easter, and be filled with faith, filled with hope, undaunted, courageous.
Not even death can defeat us. George and Rosie had been married forty years when she died. They loved each other deeply. They did everything together. They were inseparable, except for church. George drove Rosie to church every Sunday, but he remained in the car, reading his newspaper. After Rosie died, churchgoers looked for Georgeís familiar car in the parking lot, but it was no longer there. Several months later, on Easter Sunday, Georgeís car reappeared, but George this time went into the service. The preacher delivered a stirring resurrection sermon, and then invited the congregation to respond. George stood up and, with tears streaming down his face, said with deep emotion, "Rosie lives!" Then he began to sing, "My wild Irish rose, the sweetest flower that grows." One person joined in, then another, and another. Finally the entire church was joyfully singing what someone later described as the most moving Easter hymn ever sung in that church, "My Wild Irish Rose."
Yes, we can predict the future. When God works in your life, there will be times of celebration, times of disruption and challenge, times of learning, times of healing, times of testing, times of despair, failure, and death. But, beyond good Friday, there is Easter. Put your trust in Jesus, go all the way with Christ. Go beyond the cross to the empty tomb and discover faith, vision, hope, and victory.
ã 1989 Douglas I. Norris