REST ASSURED…GOD HOLDS YOUR TOMORROW
April 21, 2019 … Easter Sunday
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,“Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The manager of a Manassas buffet restaurant thought he had come up with a clever marketing slogan. On his outdoor sign he posted in huge letters: “Christ has risen, but our prices have remained the same!” However, his Easter-weekend business took a sharp nose-dive southward. It seems that believers and non-believers alike were turned off by what they felt was a very crass statement.
Yep, even with the Easter Bunny and egg hunts and 50% off all apparel at Kohl’s, there is still something unique, something hallowed, something profoundly moving about this particular holiday of the year that resists all attempts to commercialize it. There is something timeless and changeless about Easter that speaks to the deepest inner recess of our lives. We can indeed rest assured that God holds our tomorrow in the palm of his hand.
Having said that, though, we do know that…
EASTER IS NOT ABOUT REWINDING REALITY
While watching birds construct a nest in the weeping cherry tree outside my home office window on Friday morning, my mind wandered back to my childhood.
It was my 7th birthday, and against my mother’s better judgment my father had acquiesced to my whining over wanting a Daisy BB gun. It wasn’t the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle that Ralphie lusted after in A Christmas Story. No, just your average Daisy BB gun with single-lever action and a plain wooden stock.
Well, with the approach of spring I soon grew bored shooting at paper targets and rusty Schlitz beer cans and the occasional passing dump truck. Late one afternoon I spotted it—a big, fat robin perched on the clothesline pole about 20 yards away. Just sitting there. I couldn’t resist. I took aim, made the necessary adjustments for wind and distance, pulled the trigger, and the robin fell to the ground.
The rush of euphoric triumph over my excellent marksmanship begin to fade quite quickly as I approached the lifeless bird lying there on the ground. A wave of crushing guilt came over me. My lower lip began quivering involuntarily. Tears started rolling down my face. What had I done?!
Even worse, my daddy was now coming out the back door of the house toward me. My father, who had known what it was like to take a human life in the fog of war, stood beside me staring at the dead bird with a grim, saddened look on his face. He then walked me over to the pear tree at the edge of our back yard and showed me the robin’s nest in the crook of a limb containing a bright blue egg. He quietly informed me that what I had done that afternoon had not only taken the life of a mother robin but had also insured that a baby bird would never be born. And he left me there to ponder that.
I cried. I begged God to somehow rewind that afternoon. If I could just go back it and have a do-over. If only the last two hours could be erased. I prayed and prayed for a miracle. I sobbed and sobbed. And I prayed some more.
I took a shovel, dug a hole, and buried the mother robin and her egg at the end of our vegetable garden. I covered the grave with some smooth rocks and erected a small cross made out of popsicle sticks. I asked God to take care of that robin and her child. I asked God to forgive me.
I learned some important life lessons that afternoon—I learned about the sinfulness of indiscriminately taking the life of one of God’s precious creatures just for the hell of it.
And I learned that reality cannot be rewound.
As we have discussed throughout this series of Lenten messages over the past six weeks, suffering happens. Some of it, like the anguish I experienced that afternoon at the age of 7, is self-inflicted.
And yet, it is equally true that much suffering is beyond our control. We encounter pain through accidents, disease, natural disasters and, in Jesus’ case, evil. It is a simply a reality of living in a fallen world.
Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, please take this cup of suffering from me!”—His pleading so fervent that his sweat poured from his body as drops of blood. At that juncture Jesus would have gladly turned back the clock if at all possible.
But Jesus also knew that Easter could not and would not be about the magical rewinding of reality. “Your will, Father, not mine, be done…” was his statement of ultimate trust in his heavenly Father.
On a Friday that was anything but good, on a hill so very far away, Jesus absorbed the worst of what humanity had to offer and redeemed it. Our sin-filled fate was filled with forgiveness.
On the cross God opened his heart completely in offering his Son for you and me—how could we ignore the depth of this saving love? For God so loved the world…for God so loved you and me.
Jesus would bear the scars of his crucifixion beyond the tomb. Lacerations on his head, nail prints in his hands, the wound in his side—these would still be visible reminders of the reality of crucifixion he endured. But come Sunday they no longer had the capacity to cause him pain.
The scars of suffering never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. We can trace their imprint with our fingertips, we have learned much about God and ourselves as we experienced them, but the scars no longer defeat us.
Easter is not about rewinding the reality of our scars, but we do find in Christ the capacity to move beyond them, to persevere and to endure, to claim the promise of Romans 8:28, that all things can and will work together for good for those who love God….
I am reminded of the comment of Terry Waite after being released from four long years of captivity as a hostage in Lebanon: “I have been determined in captivity, and still am determined today, to convert this experience into something that will be useful and good for other people…It seems to me our faith doesn’t in any way lessen suffering. What it does is enable you take it, face it, work it and eventually convert it.”
Philip Yancey, The Question that Never Goes Away. pp. 152-53.
Furthermore, we can affirm with confidence that…
EASTER IS ALL ABOUT REVERSING THE IRREVERSIBLE If we are empowered to “do all things through Christ who strengthens us” in this life (Philippians 4:13), if we are filled with resiliency to deal with the pain that sometimes comes our way, then we also rest assured that God holds our tomorrow!
Mary arrives early on that Easter morning to an empty tomb and a living Savior. It is the ultimate contradiction. She cannot fathom it. Yet, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! God refuses to let death win! And because Christ lives, you and I and our loved ones that have gone before us have the promise of eternal life!
Resurrection is the absolute final word! It validates life, eviscerates death, repudiates sin, disseminates strength and resuscitates hope.
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” As one who conquered the chains of death, he journeys ahead of us to provide radical hospitality, ensuring that one day we will inhabit that place of complete wholeness—a place where mourning and crying and pain will be no more, every tear shall be dried—a place where death is swallowed up in victory and forever loses its sting—a place where we shall renew our strength and mount up with wings as eagles, running and not growing weary, walking and never growing faint!
The Resurrection of Christ is indeed the seismic epicenter of life – it is the supreme reminder that nothing can withstand the healing force of a loving God! Yes, that which is deemed fatefully and forever irreversible shall be reversed!
This is Easter! Can you grasp this?
Some random, concluding thoughts:
How did Terry Waite say you dealt with suffering from an Easter point of view? Your faith will not lessen it. You cannot rewind the reality of it. But you can “take it, face it, work it and eventually convert it.”
Micah Herndon, 31, ran the race in 3 hours and 38 minutes, according to race results. But to hit that mark, he had to physically drag his body along the pavement to finish the race.
Herndon, of Ohio, served several deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Record-Courierreported. During a tour in Afghanistan in 2010, three people he was with were killed when they were targeted by an IED.
Marines Mark Juarez and Matthew Ballard, and Rupert Hamer, a British journalist, died. He said he ran the Boston Marathon on Sunday for them.
“I run in honor of them. They are not here anymore. I am here, and I am able,” Herndon told the news outlet. “I am lucky to still have all my limbs. I can still be active. I find fuel in the simple idea that I can run. Some cannot.”
He said that despite his small plights — whether his feet hurt or he’s tired from running — he reminds himself why he continues, in true “Semper Fi” fashion.
“I just keep saying their names out loud to myself. They went through much worse, so I run for them and their families. In a Facebook post, Herndon shared a photo of a pair of orange Nike sneakers, but with a sentimental detail: three small golden plates featuring the names of Juarez, Ballard and Hamer are weaved in with the shoelaces. The plates served as a reminder to Herndon of why he keeps running.
Videos posted online Monday show Herndon kept his word. Close to the end, he crawled to the finish line, finishing the race 11,334 overall.
I have always appreciated the messages of Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Life and pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His Easter sermon in 2014 was especially poignant:
“Five days after Easter last year, my 27-year-old son ended his own life. He battled mental illness since a child and despite the best doctors and meds and therapy, and prayers and love, he lost his battle for hope and our family was devastated.”
Warren continued, “The day Matthew gave into the despair was the worst day of my life. During the past year, I’ve often been asked, ‘How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?’ and I’ve often replied, ‘The answer is Easter.'”
Shortly after his son’s death, Pastor Warren described his son as “an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate man.”
“He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who most in pain was or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them,” said Warren at the time.
In his message to his congregation today, Warren preaches, “You see the death, and the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter, that Sunday, was the day of hope and joy and victory.”
“Here’s the ultimate fact of life: You will face these three days over and over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you’ll find yourself asking, as I did, three fundamental questions: Number one, what do I do in my days of pain?
Two, how do I get through my days of doubt and confusion. Three, how do I get to the days of joy and victory?”
“The answer is Easter.” [http://www.christianpost.com/news/rick-warren-says-easter-is-the-answer-to-coping-with-devastation-such-as-suicide-of-his-son-118019/]
Friends, the Resurrection of Christ is indeed the seismic epicenter of life – it is the supreme reminder that nothing can withstand the healing force of a loving God! Yes, that which is deemed fatefully and forever irreversible-even death itself- shall be reversed!
Rest assured…we may not know what tomorrow may hold for us…but we do know who holds our tomorrow!
Thanks be to God! Amen!