The Easter Vigil is so much the centerpiece, the essential expression of our entire Judaeo-Christian faith, that Easter morning seems almost anti-climactic. Easter Vigil has said it all, starting with the OT record of Creation, Fall, Flood, Abraham and Isaac, the Passover Deliverance from Egypt and the Prophetic Word; then it continues in the NT with Christ’s triumph over sin and death through His own death and Resurrection.
But perhaps the best way to view Easter morn is to see it as the victory parade, the great celebration, the greatest celebration, one that leaves the Cubs’ World Series celebrations and the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup celebrations so far in the shade that they almost instantly become distant memories by comparison. How likely is it that the Cubs’ amazing season will be celebrated around the world 2,000 years from now? Yet the victory of Christ 2,000 years ago is being celebrated today in every country of the world.
How is this even possible? I’ve said on numerous occasions that I would make the world’s worst Christian apologist, mostly because I’m given to argument-avoidance at any cost, even to my shame. But in a sense, Christianity does not need me to be its apologist-in-residence. Christianity is self-authenticating because it’s all “God-stuff,” through and through. You couldn’t possibly make it up. No story has lasted as long, has been as widespread, and has permanently changed the lives of as many people as that of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave on the first Easter morning.
God Himself has put forth the most forceful imaginable argument by miraculously intervening in human history in a way that remains both unprecedented and unequaled. That’s what we’re celebrating today. That’s why we’re even here. Our transcendent God, who stands above and beyond time and place, has reached into our own time and existence, to accomplish redemption for the people He created, that they might worship and enjoy Him forever.
And He’s put before us the simplest possible formula for us to appropriate His work eternally: only believe it.
- Only believe: that we live in a world of sin, where even the best of us continually fall short of God’s holy perfections, of His glory.
- Only believe: that God, in choosing not to leave us in that condition, reached out to His people again and again in all the ways that we recited last evening.
- Only believe: that God’s ultimate redeeming act was to send His only Son into this world in the miracle of the incarnation, so that He might give us the best possible glimpse of what God is like, as well as a clear view of why we stand in need of God’s redeeming love.
- Only believe: that then, in one astonishingly counter-intuitive act, God’s Son gave up His own life on the Cross to make atonement for our sin.
- Only believe: that after 3 days, He rose from the grave in the power of God to ensure our eternal salvation and our everlasting life with Him.
I've tired of sin and straying, Lord, now I'm coming home;
I'll trust Your love, believe Your Word, Lord, I'm coming home.
Sometimes the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ sounds almost too simple for the inquiring minds of 21st century persons who are looking into religion and philosophy for the answers to the timeless questions of our existence. We seem to have convinced ourselves that there must be something more complicated, more multi-layered, maybe even something more mystically incomprehensible. Yet, after 2,000 years of human inquiry, God’s answer remains the same: only believe. Only believe what God already has done. It really is that simple.
Why does the New Testament include so many accounts of the Resurrection and fill them up with so many details such as the positioning of the cloths inside the tomb? It’s so that we would be left with the certainty that what God-inspired writers have recorded is true. We heard Peter preaching in our reading from Acts that “God raised Jesus up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead” (Acts 10:40, 41). Then in this morning’s reading from John’s gospel we have three different persons going to the empty tomb and verifying that Jesus was not there. Writing even earlier than John, Paul recounts some of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, saying that He appeared to as many as 500 believers at one time, most of whom were still living to provide a reality-check (I Corinthians 15:6).
Paul also writes to the Colossians in today’s epistle that the truth of the Resurrection has important implications for how we are to live our lives in the present. The benefits of the Resurrection are eternal. But in the interval between now and eternity, we have some work to do: some spiritual expectations. Paul wrote:
“If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
This part is more challenging. We all have heard the phrase that someone is so heavenly-minded as to be of no earthly good, and I suppose many of us smile at that because we actually have known such persons. But Paul is saying that some believers are so earthly-minded that they’re of no heavenly good. And that, it seems to me, is a far more serious indictment than the former one. The world can go on just fine without the help of those who seem excessively heavenly-minded. In fact, it does! But Paul says that our citizenship already is changing once we identify spiritually with the resurrection life that is ours in Christ Jesus.
In Romans 6, Paul wrote that “we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (6:4). That’s the basis on which he told the Colossian believers that they had died and that their lives were now hidden with Christ in God. And yes, Paul writes that the reality of this should issue in our having a changed mind-set, one that no longer treasures earthly values above spiritual values despite the incessant temptations to do exactly that. None of us is above succumbing to those temptations from time to time. But we need to have some Christian mantras that keep us on track, that keep us reminded of who we are in Christ, that keep us focused on our changed identities and new realities. And one of those mantras from which we could benefit just about any time of any day is this: “your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Let’s keep it simple: just say to yourself a few times every day: “I’m hidden with Christ in God.” What would be the result? In simplest terms, it would mean that in such moments our minds truly would be set on things above and not on things on earth. One good thing about mantras is that they can become habit-forming! They can change the way we think and act. Our more devout Orthodox Christian friends recite the Jesus Prayer multiple times every day: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” That prayer has inestimable value because it’s just about the shortest possible prayer for becoming a Christian as well as for being a Christian. It recognizes that we’re sinners; it acknowledges that Jesus is Lord, which was the earliest Christian confessional statement; it acknowledges through the Hebrew Name of Jesus, Yeshua, that God saves; it acclaims Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah of God; it reminds us that Jesus is God’s own Son; and it pleads for God’s abundantly available mercy in Christ Jesus. You get all of that in one short and simple prayer. That’s a lot of theology in one prayer.
But Paul’s short phrase, “You’re hidden with Christ in God,” is both theologically profound and also entirely pragmatic: it tells me how to think and how to act today, and thereby takes me several steps beyond the Jesus prayer. I believe that I could (and do, in fact) recite the Jesus Prayer over and over, basking in its truths, and still live most days in a different reality altogether. But I believe it would be much harder for me to live with my mind and therefore my behavior set on earthly things if I consciously made my mantra multiple times every day, “My life is hidden with Christ in God.”
That, my friends, is the message of Easter. We’re not here this morning to celebrate a historical event, a 2,000-year old momentous happening. If that were it, then it would have faded away by now in precisely the way that the Cubs’ World Series victory will fade. Easter lives after 2,000 years because it’s far more than an event. It’s a way, it’s THE way, it’s the way of the One Who said, “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life,” the One Who said, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.” That’s the reality we’re here to celebrate this morning and it’s the reality we’re to live into every day of our lives as those who bear the Name of Jesus, at Whose Name ultimately “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” That’s how we are hidden with Christ in God. May we pray it, say it and live it every day that God gives to us on this earth so that, as Paul concluded, “When Christ, Who is our life, is revealed, then we also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen