“Grace to you and peace
from Him Who is and Who was
and Who is to come,
and from the seven spirits
who are before His throne,
and from Jesus Christ,
the faithful witness [martyr],
the firstborn of the dead,
the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
Revelation 1: 4-5
We are through with the season of Lent until next year. Now is what we call Eastertide (or just Easter) until the day of Pentecost, May 15th. For the next seven weeks (including six Sundays) until Pentecost, we will be exploring what it means to say that Jesus is “risen from the dead.”
Easter time comes every year to remind us of God’s renewing work in the world. At this time, we pause to take in the fact that God is able to bring new life where there was death. Jesus is the “firstborn of the dead,” meaning that he has broken the pattern where ‘what dies is dead.’
In fact, Easter will be our theme all year long— because it is the central reality of our Christian faith. The main way that we proclaim that “Jesus is alive!” is by living our lives with kindness toward our neighbors. Overcoming our human tendencies to be fearful, self-centered, and hostile is a powerful witness (the Greek word is martyr) to our neighbors about the hope that we have.
John’s gospel says that Jesus’ disciples had locked themselves in a room after he was crucified because they were afraid that the same authorities who had killed Jesus would come after them next. To their way of thinking, the worst thing that could happen was to be abused and killed by their enemies. They focused their energy on surviving, protecting themselves. Perhaps the disciples would even take up swords and fight their enemies, as Peter tried to do in the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas and a crowd came to arrest Jesus.
They did not realize that, just beyond the walls of the city, Jesus was alive again and speaking with one of their group, Mary Magdalene! (John 20:18)
On that Sunday morning, Jesus gave to Mary Magdalene the honor of being the first person to witness what a resurrected body— a body given a fresh, new creation by God— was.
Also on that first Easter morning, Jesus appointed Mary as his first “apostle” (from the Greek word for ‘one who is sent out’) to announce his resurrection. Jesus sent Mary to explain to the other disciples the good news, that he was on his way up, not down! “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)
Mary Magdalene obeyed Jesus by announcing the good news to them as he told her to do. However, just like us, she could not force them to give up their fear and their self-centered attitudes. Their doors stayed locked.
But then, that evening, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you,” and he showed them the wounds to his body which had killed him. Seeing Jesus alive, and hearing him speak the word of Peace to them, transformed the disciples’ attitudes from fear, self-centeredness and hostility to rejoicing (John 20:20).
While it’s nice to worship and celebrate with a large congregation, we notice in the gospels that the risen Jesus spent significant time with only a dozen of his friends. As he told his disciples on another occasion, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) They were such a small group, they could feel it when Jesus breathed on them (John 20:22). So we mustn’t ever be discouraged if our numbers are not huge: with the inspiration of Jesus Christ, we can do whatever he asks us to do.
Have you experienced the risen Christ?
Do you have good news to demonstrate to your neighbors because he has replaced your natural fear, self-centeredness and hostility with rejoicing?
These coming weeks are a time to practice telling the story: how we have met the living Son of God.
God can enter the prisons where we are bound and set us free... free to share our confidence in God’s life-giving Way.
“Go... tell the people
the whole message about this life.”
- Acts 5:20