My Easter Message 2020
There are at least three resurrection stories in the Christian Bible.
The first of those appears in the Hebrew Scripture book we know as Jonah.
Jonah was ordered by God to go to the Assyrian city of Ninevah “and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah heads in the opposite direction, toward Tarshish. When the boat he is on nearly sinks in a storm, he confesses that it is his fault and the crew throws him overboard. A large fish (we tend to think “whale) swallows him. Jonah prays, declaring his faith and faithfulness from the belly of the fish and God has the fish spews him up outside Ninevah so Jonah can continue with his mission, the one he does not want.
Jonah essentially walks into Ninevah and proclaims, “Forty more days and God is going to nuke you!” (my paraphrase, or course). The city leaders declare a fast (a time of repentance for their wrongs) and “when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”
Jonah pouts, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” And God makes a plant to shade Jonah’s head while he pouts. Then God sets a worm on the plant to eat it up and Jonah whines some more, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” God says to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” Jonah whines a little more and God says, you are so worried about the plant. Should I not be concerned over a city of a hundred twenty thousand people?”
We are not given any more story. We would like to know that Jonah stopped pouting, got wise and starting caring about the people God cares about, but the Bible does not give us that, only that Jonah is still alive to make up his mind to be the kind of person who not only knows God, but who also trusts and obeys God out of love. The Children’s Bible story does not typically give us the Jonah pouting part of the story, only the fish story, but who doesn’t like a good fish story?
The second resurrection story we will consider here is the story we find in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel about John of Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Mary and Martha. The sisters send word to Jesus that their brother is sick, Jesus is busy about his mission (as Luke 4:18-19 and Luke 19:10 say “to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,” and “to seek out and save the lost”).
After some time passes, Jesus tells his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” “Good he will get better.” So he tells them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas says, “Let’s go, that we may die with him.” Jesus has already had his life threatened in Judah, but he either is not listening or does not trust Jesus in this situation. After all, we call him “Doubting Thomas,” because, in the twentieth chapter of John, Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus has risen until he gets proof.
When Jesus arrives at Bethany, the sisters confront him beginning with Martha, “If you had been here our brother would not have died.” A little later Mary delivers the same challenge. Jesus asks for the location of the tomb. Jesus demands that the tomb be opened and Martha warns that he has been dead four days and, as the King James Version quotes Martha, “Lord, by this time he stinketh.”
Jesus says to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they take away the stone. And Jesus lifts up his eyes and say, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cries out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died comes out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus say to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
We do not have any details about the rest of Lazarus’s life. A lot of preachers and scholars like to imagine what is must have been like for Lazarus, but how many of them, of us, have been through such an experience? The Thursday before Palm Sunday 2019 I had open heart surgery to implant an LVAD (left ventricular assist device). An RVAD was installed to assist the right side of my heart until it could keep up and I was semi-comatose until Maundy Thursday. On the Saturday before Easter, known to many as "Silent Saturday," I was able to speak my first words for over a week. As I sit and write this with tears in my eyes, I just realize my story has been something of a Lazarus story and yet, I realize I cannot know what Lazarus experienced and what happened to his life afterward. I can only make choices and live in such ways that I hope are pleasing to God, knowing that I sometimes fail to be the me God would prefer me to be but knowing always that I am still the me that God loves, mechanical pump and all.
Of course, our Easter stories from all four Gospels, where Jesus rises from the grave, each with its own account and details but all with Jesus risen, are the inspiration for what has become the Christian Church in all its flavors, colors, accents, hymns, and hopes.
Some of us ask, “Are we there yet,” without ever having experienced the Last Supper where he shared bread and wine with his disciples, declaring them to be his body and blood, given for the salvation of the world. We skip over that part where he washes his disciple's feet and Judas betrays him with a kiss. And too often we rush right past the Cross where he was nailed for our sakes, saying something to the effect of “Father. Forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” And we still don’t, no matter how seriously we take ourselves. We like a parade and hence we have Palm Sunday. We like sweets, laughing children, and family gatherings, so we have baskets and eggs and candy and a big dinner. We adore the highlights and skip the agony.
But this year things are different. In some way we are all like Lazarus, waiting to be released but we like to think we are more like Jesus. If given the chance, we would like to think we would heroically die for the sake of those we love, but most of us would not. It is not heroism that makes us careless in these days. We cling to life as we want it, as I have with this mechanical pump that has to be powered all the time for me to live. Are we more like pouting and selfish Jonah, like Lazarus with a new life to live, like Mary Shelley’s monster in Frankenstein, or can we genuinely be more like Jesus whom God looked at and declared, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased”?
Will it matter that Jesus has died on the cross because he trusted that it would make a difference in our lives and in the world? Will it matter that he humbled himself to wash his disciples feet? Will it matter that God has come to live among us and our ancient peers were so self-centered, angry, and bitter that they nailed him to a cross? Would we do any differently? Do we? How are we at loving God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength? How are we doing at loving the neighbors God gives us to love as much as we love ourselves? Will we be relived that we are not expected to go through all the pomp we have practiced on Easter Sunday as we prepared and attended church in the past? Or will we let it matter? Will we be transformed, if just a little, into the people God knows we can be, not too full of ourselves but willing to take up this life of faith God has given us to live?
Will this Easter be the one where we really realize “He Is Risen” and He is risen for me, so that I might rise from being the person who will constantly fails to be who God made me to be? Will this be the Easter where I step outside in the rain or the sunshine or in whatever we have and shout, “He is risen!” Because just then, just now, and forever more Jesus is alive in me and in you and in us, and that is the beginning of hope in this Easter that might otherwise be empty, depressing, fearful.
I want God to look down upon you and declare, “This is my child with whom I am well pleased.” He Is Risen! Have a Blessed Easter Sunday! And a Blessed Rest of Your Life whatever that may be. . . . Allen Snider