Today was my last Easter celebration as a college student. Well, at least as an undergrad. When I think back to my first Easter Sunday here in Eugene, I recall skipping both services of church and even the Easter celebration at CCF (Collegiate Christian Fellowship). Why? I missed church in the morning because I wanted to sleep in and I missed CCF because I had some homework to catch up on. For whatever reason, I just didn’t feel like partaking in the festivities this day brings. It took me five years to finally take seasons like Easter’s seriously.
Danny’s message this morning was a quick summary of Jesus’ narrative, more specifically the passion. Taking bits and pieces from each of the Gospels, we tracked from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances to the disciples. The main thing Danny wanted to highlight was what the news of Jesus’ resurrection meant for the disciples. It wasn’t a mere “Oh, glad you’re okay” type of mentality; it was something much more. There was a message delivered to the disciples beyond the basic news of the empty tomb.
Mark’s Gospel is probably my favorite gospel for tracking the story of Jesus. It’s simple and to the point. Its original ending, verse 8 in chapter 16, cuts off at the empty tomb and the women being told to inform the disciples, but ultimately running away in fear. Such an abrupt ending to the gospel, though, might make some feel uneasy. And thus we stumble upon the rhetorical value of Mark’s account; its short ending was meant to cause a stir amongst the early readers.
It was meant to cause the reader to reconsider the story leading up to this point of resurrection. What the news of Jesus’ resurrection did for the disciples was very similar; it caused them to reconsider all the teachings He had given – especially the predictions about rising on the third day. As Danny said this morning, the disciples experienced a resurrection of their own on Easter Sunday: The religious systems they had grown up with were killed on Friday and raised to life in a completely knew understanding – a new faith.
On my way home, I considered what it really means to have a resurrection experience. N.T. Wright discusses this very issue and, drawing from Romans 6, says that our souls experience this death and resurrection in the act of baptism. Our old ways of understanding how the world works and how God works were killed in going under the water and we were given a completely new life – not a mere refurbishing of the old – in Jesus Christ. In many ways, I think our experiences with Jesus’ resurrection ought to be like those of the disciples; a complete alteration of everything familiar.
What I’ve been trying to do throughout this weekend is power through Luke’s Gospel and do so in way that I’d feel, as best as possible, the severity of the situation. I wanted to feel the pain, confusion, and pure anxiety of the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ death. I wanted to wrestle with the day in between where I’d be in limbo with wanting to return to my old life but having an overwhelming compulsion to live something new – based off my experiences with Jesus. And I wanted to experience the confusing and bewildering joy of hearing about the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Instead of my freshman-year Easter experience, I wanted to milk this one for all it was worth. When it was all said and done, I came back to Starbucks, plunged through the rest of Luke, and came across a simple verse that I think encapsulates Easter weekend and what it is meant to do.
“Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation,” – Luke 22:46.
In the hour I first truly saw what it meant to be a follower of Christ, it was a spiritual awakening. Here Jesus was rebuking His disciples for literally falling asleep, but in light of Danny’s message this morning, I felt the spiritual implications. As N.T. Wright says in Surprised By Hope (discussing Paul’s understanding of the resurrection), “It’s time to wake up,” (248).
But haven’t you already had this spiritual awakening, this resurrection of the soul? Haven’t you already felt the powerful revelation of God? I would answer “Yes” to those questions, but with one clarification: Just because I’ve experienced a spiritual resurrection doesn’t mean that I’ll always be awake for time immemorial. As even Jesus’ disciples struggled, strained, and stumbled in the wake of His resurrection, so we also are prone to slide into a comfortable form of Christianity that demands little from us and yet gives us all the reassuring about living forever that we could need. “You’ve been saved; there’s not much more than that,” is the message we might here. And yet the Scriptures indicate otherwise; in fact, Jesus indicates otherwise.
In His foretelling of future trials and tribulations for His disciples, Jesus says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives,” – Luke 21:19. Or as Matthew says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved,” – 10:22. So then this race of salvation doesn’t just stop with the believing; it continues on until we can run no more, until we pass from this world to the next. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow we run, but rather that we run and complete it.
If you, like me, were moved by your pastor’s message this Easter Sunday, that’s great. But we would do these messages injustice if we were only to apply them on Easter Sunday and no other day. N.T. Wright suggests that we ought to strain to live like Easter people – people of the resurrection, people of the very kingdom of God.
If Jesus’ teaching in Luke 8 about the word of God taking root is any indication of what our lives are supposed to be like, then perhaps we ought to pray that we are the good soil – fertile enough to be fruitful for a lifetime.
Happy Easter and God bless!
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” – Mark 16:6