In Acts, Peter and Cornelius have discovered an important truth about Christ: "to God every person is the same." Whereas this may not seem like earth-shattering news, it does cause us to reflect on the biases and prejudices that shape our lives. With Christ's victory over death and with the understanding that He is living within us, we are called to go out into all parts of the world to share the Good News of the Gospel, to preach, heal, and nurture, and to spread the peace of Christ to everyone we meet.
In Colossians Paul suggests that the more we are able to turn our focus towards heaven, seeking only “things that are above, where Christ is,” the better we will stay on our pathway to holiness. Through Christ we are being transformed into His image. We are being renewed and remade into Christ.
The psalmist in Psalm 118 shows us the importance of developing a steady confidence in God's love. As we turn more and more to Him, relying on His Spirit and trusting in His guidance, we find that our lives begin to come under control. When we look to God in all things we become less likely to focus only ourselves and more on the needs of the world around us. From this position of "Christ-likeness" we become a building block for the Kingdom of Heaven. "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His steadfast love endures forever."
In our verses in John, Mary discovers the empty tomb and her life is forever changed… Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Once we open our eyes to the reality that Christ is alive in our hearts, the world with all of its issues that cause worry, pain, despair, anxiety, loneliness, and hopelessness will wash away. Christ is risen! In the light of this glorious truth, all things are possible. It is our task as Easter-people to open our hearts to the love of Jesus Christ and then go out into the world, telling everyone we meet of the wonderful news that the risen Lord is alive and living among us.
Darkness - it seemed as though it had never been darker. And cold; bitter, bitter cold. The spring winds had yet to find their morning warmth. Mary trudged on with the cold and darkness as her only allies against the feeling of dread and emptiness that filled her heart. The images of Jesus, her one and only Lord and her savior a thousand times over, had haunted her throughout the Sabbath. Sleep, prayer, and even conversations with her sister, had failed her. Nothing could break through her grief - except for the images of Jesus that repeatedly blazoned in her mind. But with the images came emptiness; a growing void, vast and dark. Her love, her master, her hope, and her reason to live - gone. Now only memories would stir her heart.
She thought of the day he had returned from the desert, weak, tired, and hungry and yet, so alive. His eyes had glowed with clarity. He had come to terms. He had come to know God and what God was asking him to do. He had faced his weaknesses and had refused the sultry draw of temptation. The Holy Spirit had led him into the wilderness and the glory of God carried him out. It was as though he was a man who had faced a choice, grasped the opportunity with both hands, and was now emboldened to do whatever it took. Confidence exuded from his every pour… "No, confidence isn't the right word," she thought to herself. "It was an aura, a glow. Yes, that's it. He glowed in holiness."
Everyone could see it, even the religious leaders. They quickly began to notice that there was something special about him. "What was his name; the one that came in the middle of the night? He was the only one to speak up for him during the trials…Nicodemus. That's it; Nicodemus." She paused as she remembered that special evening when Jesus taught the lesson of new life. "Born again in the spirit," he had called it. "His faith was so strong - even stronger than Abraham's. And Nicodemus saw it. He understood more then he led others to believe. I saw the tears in his eyes on that terrible Skull Mountain. He knows what we all lost."
Mary continued on in the dark and biting cold, putting distance between her and the other women who had come to help her. They had purposely held back. They, too, were grieving but they did not understand the grip of passion that had come over Mary. She had become so fixated by Jesus and now that he was gone it was as though everything in her life had died. They understood grief but this was different.
On she trudged filled with purpose and intent, but even so her thoughts drifted. It was another woman, this time; a Samaritan. Jesus had been so kind and understanding with this half-breed. "How many husbands did he say she had? But who am I to judge another." Living a forgiven life, Mary had gradually come to realize the extent of forgiveness. If you look closely enough, everyone needs forgiveness. She certainly was not one to throw stones… "But that wasn't the main point with this woman. Jesus was teaching a different lesson. It was a lesson of focus. He showed it was only through our focusing on God that we would find sustenance. Our hunger and thirst will truly only be fulfilled when we worship God in Spirit and Truth. How we worship, even where we worship, is of no bearing. Spirit and Truth. I wonder where that woman is this morning. Has she heard what has happened? Is she too, filled with grief for the Lord she had come to know at the well on that hot summer day?"
"Darkness. Will the light ever come? Will the day ever begin?" Even as these thoughts crept into her mind she couldn't help but think of Jesus' healing of the blind man. It wasn't just another healing and she had seen many. And it wasn't really the Sabbath thing though the scribes were hoping to find something wrong. This blind man was an illustration; a live, in-the-center-of-town, in-front-of-the-whole-world demonstration. Jesus was making a point. "Darkness, what did he say about darkness?" She struggled to remember. He had said so much and, even though every one of his teachings were memorable, it had become difficult to fully understand his points and how each one interacted with the other. "I remember Thomas and Peter going on for hours trying to decipher one simple remark. They were quite comical."
"Where was I? Blindness? What was it that he said? He had 'come to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.' Well, they must have remained blind or else I wouldn't be making this trek this morning. Why couldn't they see who he was? Why did they choose to remain blind when he was offering so much?"
He offered life. Her thoughts raced to her loving brother and the day they had traveled to another tomb not too far from this very place. She had also been grief stricken on that day, not so much at the loss of her brother but at the senselessness of the loss. "I was strong in my belief. Jesus saw it in my eyes. I knew that if he had simply traveled those few short miles he could have saved Lazarus. And then I saw him cry. Were they tears of grief? Fatigue? Hopelessness?" She thought again about his tears. She hadn't really thought about them until now, especially after her dead brother had walked out of the tomb still smelling of rot and decay. Her tears of loss had turned into tears of joy. "Why did Jesus cry? If he knew that Lazarus would live, why did he cry?" The answer to this puzzle still eluded her.
And so did the crucifixion. They had been so happy during their entrance into Jerusalem. With so many people singing and rejoicing at seeing Jesus, she had grown to hope that his terrible predictions were wrong. But no, he had been dead right. "Why didn't he save himself? I know he could have done it? I just don't understand what could be gained by his death…"
Suddenly, in the early morning light, she saw the outline of the tomb. The stone had been moved. Her heart sank in grief and her voice shrieked in despair. The other women and a couple of the disciples came running to her side at the sound. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb," she cried, "and (I) do not know where they have laid him.”
Risen Lord: There is so much we don't understand. We celebrate on this Easter morning the glory of your victory over death and with it the blessed assurance that, through you, we now have access to the kingdom of heaven. We are joyous. But we are also confused. What does it mean in our lives this news of a resurrected Lord? How are we, in the twenty-first Century, affected by it? In what ways are we changed? What will tomorrow bring? Just as Mary, in her discovery of the empty tomb, was so focused on the issues of her life that she failed to recognize you standing before her, we too, struggle with seeing your presence in our lives. You are the Risen Lord and we sing loud hosannas in celebration of this but then we return home and focus on the issues that fill our days. Lord, we pray that you open our eyes and our hearts to your love and glory. Create in us a spirit that focuses only on you. Transform our hearts and send us off into the world to do your work. Rise again, Lord, in our hearts so we can truly become the children of God we have been created to be. It is through the glory of the empty tomb we pray. Amen.
Wow, Gary! I am always intrigued by the well-organized truths that you outline for us. And I always pause to seek God's answers to the questions you ask. But this article is set apart... even for such a skilled writer as yourself. You drew me in and I walked with Mary, felt her pain, her frustration, her anxiety, her helplessness. Oh! But the Lord is RISEN! I am in such total agreement with your prayer. Yes, Lord. Yes, and amen.