Embodying Easter

Embodying Easter

We’re going to be in Acts 10 today (pg 766).

It’s the fifth book of the New Testament:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and then Acts.

Today is Easter Sunday.

A glorious day for candy-lovers and bunny-lovers
and egg-lovers and peep-lovers worldwide.

(What is a peep, by the way? Has anyone ever figured that out?)

Oh! And somewhere in the middle of all of this silliness,
the Christian church is doing what it always does:

Quietly proclaiming that there is a human being who has conquered death.

Today is Easter Sunday,
and that means that the resurrection of Jesus is front and center.

We tend to celebrate the birth of Jesus with all kinds of gusto,
but Easter is where the deepest celebration is at.

After all, nobody cares about Christmas
if Christ is just another corpse.

But the relentless rumor is that Jesus didn’t stay dead.

There’s a tradition in the church
that is especially meaningful today—a greeting.

Someone will say, “Christ is risen”
and those hearing it will say, “He is risen indeed.”

You want to try it?

Christ is risen.
(He is risen indeed.)

That, my friends, is a greeting, an affirmation, a celebration,
that has been spoken century after century
and declared as good news—the best news the world has ever known.

It’s a confession that today is on the tongues of millions
in hundreds of languages across the globe
in cathedrals and city churches and remote villages
and persecuted underground churches and even here in a school auditorium.

The Christ is risen. The King is risen.
Jesus of Nazareth is no longer dead.
He is risen.

But on a day where so many people are saying,
Jesus is risen, Jesus is risen, Jesus is risen,
it might be easy to shrug our shoulders and say “so what?”

“So what that the resurrection has been confessed
throughout the centuries—what good is it?

“Have you glanced at the news? The world is a mess.
Let me tell you about my life. It’s falling apart.

“People are talking about the resurrection as if it’s some kind of solution—
as if it’s THE answer to some burning question,
but I have no idea what it’s the answer to.”

Perhaps the church’s Easter announcement
would fit in well on Jeopardy.

The answer is… “Jesus is risen from the dead.”
But what kind of question is that an answer to?

Because doesn’t always seem like a helpful answer
and it certainly isn’t an answer that any of us are expecting.

The answer is…“a first-century Jewish peasant has been raised from the dead.”

But why on earth would that matter?
What good does that do?

If Easter is the answer,
what is the question?

For two thousand years the church has been talking as if “Christ is risen” is the answer,
and so today I thought we should propose some questions—that we could explore a question or two or three to which the answer “Christ is risen” makes sense.

So as we read Acts 10, we’re going to hear one of Jesus’s earliest followers tell the story of Jesus and his resurrection, and I think he points us to some questions that swirl deeply around in our hearts.

Questions where the answer “Christ is risen” gives us good news.

So let’s listen to what Peter has to say, and then we’ll explore these questions very briefly, and then we’ll come to the table.

(10.34-46) Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

(v39) “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

This is the word of the Lord.

Peter is telling the story of Jesus to a commander of the Roman army here in Acts 10.

The Easter announcement is making it’s way up the Mediterranean coast
and reaching the ears of people who are not Jewish,
and who have absolutely no intrinsic investment in the Jewish story.

And yet, this foreign oppressor, this pagan overlord, this Roman centurion,
experiences the presence of God himself (v44; “the Holy Spirit came on [them]”)
as the story of Jesus crucified and resurrected is told.

Peter makes an announcement:
“the anointed one that the Jewish people have been looking for is risen”
“the messiah is risen,” “the christ is risen,”
and it ushers in a powerful and mysterious and transforming experience of the Divine
for people who may have previously shrugged their shoulders and said “so what?”

And I think that’s because this announcement of Peter’s gives an answer
to at least three questions that haunt each and every one of us.

And the first question is this:
Is there hope for the world?

I mean, why not just cut straight to the chase?

Most hours of most days, we’re moving from task to task,
from activity to activity, from distraction to distraction
and we don’t find ourselves vocalizing this desperate question.

But make no mistake,
this is THE question that lurks within all of us.

Sometimes it’s when we turn on the news and we hear
about an atrocity, about beheadings,
about a catastrophe, about a distaster,
about a crisis no one seem to be able to solve.

And we think, “Good grief… is there any hope for the human race?”

Other times it’s situations closer to home that stir the question.

The relationship just isn’t working;
the career is struggling;
the depression is crushing;
the schedule is unrelenting;
the doctor doesn’t give much hope.

And we think, “My God, is there any hope for me, for my family, for this situation?”

Or maybe most scary is when everything is as it should be—
nothing is really falling apart—and we quietly wonder:

Is this is it? Is this all there is to life?
Is there nothing more?
Is life just passing me by?

Does every longing of the human heart
ultimately crash into a casket and go unfulfilled?

Is there hope?

For the earliest Christians, the story of Jesus is good news—
the best news imaginable.

God himself—the Lord of All (v36)—comes among us.

Campfire stories of the gods coming among us are as old as history (cf. Acts 14.11-12),
but here we find something more than a campfire story,
something more than myth.

Here we find historical specifics—locations and cities and dates and governors.

“You remember Jesus,” Peter is saying,
“who worked in the regions of Judea and Galilee
right after John the Baptist (v37).”

He’s the one who was killed in Jerusalem (v39)
under the reign of Pontius Pilate (the church always remembers).

In the words of C.S. Lewis,
the age-old myth has become historical fact.

The Creator donates himself to his creation—
he becomes part of creation.

God becomes a human being.

And it’s good news (v36).
Good news of peace.

When God comes among us,
he isn’t throwing stones,
he isn’t condemning sinners,
he isn’t shaking his head or clenching his fists.

He’s reaching out.
He’s embracing.

Embracing children. Embracing prostitutes.
Embracing the diseased and the distressed and the tortured.

He’s embracing anyone who will let him,
and he’s bringing wholeness and health.

He’s doing good (v38) and healing all
because God was with him.

If you want to know what it looks like
when God walks down the city streets,
read the story of Jesus.

If you want to feel pulse of God
and see his bleeding heart of love for people,
read the gospels.

When you see Jesus doing good and healing all,
you see God’s posture to towards the world.

It wasn’t the broken or the marginalized or the sexually deviant
who had Jesus executed.

The tax collectors and sinners didn’t kill Jesus.
The religious conservatives did.

The people who thought themselves as healthy
are the ones who killed the doctor.

They killed Jesus, Peter says in verse 39,
but God raised him from the dead.

Because evidently there is more good that needs doing,
more healing that needs to take place.

In fact, Peter says Jesus is going to be healing on an even bigger scale,
because Jesus has been appointed the world’s judge (v42).

He’s the one who is going to sort out the brokenness of the world.

The one who is going to bring goodness and healing to the entire world—
and, man oh man, do we need someone to do that.

That’s good news.

When early Christians saw the resurrection of Jesus,
when they told others what they had seen,
they were whispering hope to the world.

Do you know what God is like?
Did you know that God has united himself to humanity?

Do you know that he embraces and heals and does good?
Did you know that God himself drank the cup of death dry?

Did you know that the resurrection of the dead has already started?
Did you know that the all the world and all of history is going be made right?

Did you know that we can be a part of all of this?

“Is there hope for the world?”
Christ is risen.

The announcement of Easter makes sense
as the answer to that question.

This first question lays the groundwork (it provides us with an imagination)
for any other question we might ask.

And the next two other questions are really just derivatives of that first one—
they flow out of that first question.

A second question that I think swirls within all of us is
what is God doing about all the darkness in the world?

Christ is risen.

The weight of that answer might escape us at first,
but if Jesus has been raised from the dead, what does that mean?

What was Jesus before Easter morning—
like since Friday afternoon?

It’s not a trick question—he was dead.
Stone-cold dead.

You don’t get resurrected until you’re dead.

I think we’re absolutely right to ask questions
about suffering and injustice and evil in the world and in our lives.

We’re even right to ask God about it:

“What are you thinking making a world where wars and droughts
and miscarriages and cancer and suffering are a possibility?”

We don’t get an exhaustive answer anywhere in the Bible.

But we do get an answer:
Christ is risen—because he was dead.

God himself has come among us,
and endured the full weight of suffering and injustice and evil.

What is God doing about all of the darkness in the world?
He is enduring it.

The human race did its worst to Jesus,
the powers of this world punished him without mercy,
crushing him to bloody pulp on the cross (v39).

God knows what’s it like.

The loneliness, the confusion, the pain,
the helplessness, the despair.

He has endured the darkness of the world,
and has done what none of us can do—he has condemned it.

In Romans 8, Paul reflects on God in Jesus enduring the darkness of the cross and says, “That’s the place where rebellion and injustice and evil came to a climax,
where darkness did its worst and where God condemned it.”

Not just the darkness “out there” in the world that all of us are quick to want wiped off the planet, but even the darkness “in here” that each of us bring to the world.

Somehow the cross became the place
where God endured it all, condemned it all,
took care of all of it.

And God has triumphed over the world’s darkness—
in the words of Peter, God has caused Jesus to be seen (v40).

That’s something, isn’t it?

Jesus was seen after his death.

Raised. Whole. Fully alive.
Eating and drinking with friends (v41).

If Jesus has conquered death and lives forever
that means suffering and injustice and evil won’t.

Everyone who sees this Jesus alive and well and grilling out fish on the beach (Jn 21)
begins to realize that the crushing darkness that fills this world will have an end.

And as we entrust ourselves to this Jesus,
we discover that the toxic darkness that infects each of us is forgiven through him (v43).

What is God doing about all the darkness in the world?
He’s enduring it, condemning it, triumphing over it.
Christ is risen.

And the third question is maybe the most everyday and practical:
what are our lives to be about?

If your heart is beating, I think you’ve asked this question at some point.

What are we to be doing with our lives?
What is our task in the word?
Why am we here?

Christ is risen.

This is a new season for Belleview Community Chapel,
and there have been a lot of changes since the beginning of the year.

Since February we’ve been thinking through why we exist—
really why any local church exists.

We’ve come to the conclusion that the thing that makes the church unique
is it’s the community centered around Jesus.

The local church is the place where the world meets Jesus.

We are invited to become a community of people
who are learning to trust and celebrate and embody Jesus.

Trust Jesus speaking blessing over us,
submitting our lives to him and each other
and opening our lives to him and each other.

Celebrate Jesus breathing new life into us,
being swept up together into God’s unusual kindness,
and learning to take off old patterns of death and put on life.

And all the time we are hearing the Easter announcement—
“Christ is risen” begins to fill our hearts and capture our imagination—
we realize our lives are meant to be about restoration.

The power of God that raised Jesus from the dead
wants to work within each and every one of us (cf. Eph 1.18-21).

What are our lives to be about?
Christ is risen.

Peter is the one telling this story, and he’s someone who has been through the worst of circumstances—someone whose world collapsed and betrayed everything he believed in—and now he’s insisting that resurrection and new life have the last word.

By raising Jesus from the dead,
God has spoken “Yes” to Jesus,
“Yes” this world, “Yes” to life.

Peter has heard this “Yes,” he has believed this “Yes,”
and he’s learning to retell resurrection—to retell the story of Jesus to others.

That the Lord of All—that Jesus—has come among us
not to show favoritism or condemn
but to bring good news of peace,
to do good and heal all under the power of darkness.

And he chose to endure our hatred rather than return it,
to condemns darkness by bringing light,
to suffer and die that others might have life.

Peter realizes that if Christ is risen
then that’s what his life has got to be about.

That what all of our lives have got to be about.

Because God himself has embodied Easter in history,
because the myth really has become fact,
because Christ really is actually risen,
we can embody Easter to others.

The church is the place where “Christ is risen” has captured us to such a degree
that the story of Jesus—and the very life of God—begins spilling out of us into the world.

We begin to preach and testify (v42)
with every bit of our lives that Jesus is way things are set right.

Jesus is the way we (personally) are forgiven, healed, restored,
and Jesus is the way the world will be forgiven, healed, restored.

What are our lives to be about?

We could do worse than not showing favoritism
but bringing good news of peace, doing good, and working for healing.

You know, the life of Jesus lived in us.

Each of lives will be changed
as we learn to endure hatred rather than returning it,
as we begin condemning less and focusing on bringing light,
as we practice dying to ourselves and learn to help others live.

Our lives will be changed as we begin to embody Easter
and ask “How can I retell resurrection—in word and deed?”

With my energy and resources and creativity—
how can I help speak God’s Yes into the world?

With the forty hours I spend at that job—
are there ways that I can embody the self-giving love of God?

All those wonderful and complicated daily relationships that we have—
can I bring light to their lives?

In the midst of my pain—
how can I retell the resurrection?

Our lives will be changed, and I think the world will be too.

Every week we come to this table—this table the place that centers on Jesus.

And it’s the place where Jesus meets us as he always does.
In the common and the everyday.
In crackers and juice.

It’s the place where we don’t have to do a thing,
where we can receive—we can receive God’s Yes to Life.

Where we can hear the resurrection retold to us once again.

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

We practice an open table here,
so if you’re captured and captivated by the story of Jesus,
you’re invited to come down the center aisle,
to receive a cracker, to dip the juice,
and then return to your seats along the sides.

So as you come, I would invite you to
allow the Father to whisper hope into your darkness,
receive the life of the Son—both his suffering and his resurrection,
and to ask the Spirit to help you retell this resurrection to the world.

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