Easter Day A
April 14, 2014
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
We are accustomed to associating Easter Sunday with travel. What we are perhaps not accustomed to realize is that the Easter story involves travel, too. Today we don’t mind traveling in order to see loved ones, including on holidays like Christmas or Easter. Some of us routinely pack up our cars and hit the highway to travel from Omaha clear over to Washington D.C. because that’s where a precious family member currently lives. If you want to be together as a family for a day like Easter, you hit the road. It’s not at all unusual.
But what if someone proposed a long trip to you under very different circumstances? Suppose your daughter, who lives in the same Ohio town where you currently live, is going to have her first baby, your first grandchild. Finally the day arrives when you get a call telling you that Jenny is on her way to the local hospital to have the baby. You wait, you pace, you bite your fingernails until later that day the phone rings again and it’s your son-in-law. “Mom! It’s a boy and we named him Jeremy. He’s gorgeous and perfect. We can’t wait for you to see him. To celebrate, we’re leaving shortly for Pittsburgh, so if you and Dad want to get in the car and drive on over to Pennsylvania, there you will see Jeremy!”
Well now, in this case the long journey gives pause. If you and the new grandson are both in the same town at the moment, why in the world whisk the tyke over to Pittsburgh! Why do you need to go all the way over there to see the little guy when he’s already right here?!
But something very similar happens in Matthew 28. Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected in Jerusalem, where the disciples are still staying, too, following the Passover holiday weekend. They have not yet gone home. But wonder of wonders on the first day of the week, the women of Jesus’ entourage claim Jesus has been raised. They heard it from an angel’s lips first but then bumped into the master himself! The disciples must have been shocked and not a little intrigued. Surely their first inclination was to run over and see Jesus for themselves.
But there’s a catch: the women report Jesus as instructing them to head over to Galilee and there they will see him.
Punch up a Google map. Notice: Galilee is nearly 80 miles to the north as the crow flies, maybe 90-100 miles on the ground! In those days you didn’t do a trip like that in a day, maybe not even two days. At a decent walking clip of about 4-5 miles per hour on foot it will be 20 hours or so to get there (and since few people can walk 20 hours non-stop, it would be a trip of 2-3 days if you allow for time to eat, rest, and sleep.
The Gospel according to Matthew tells us that the grandest event in galactic history happened just down the road from where the disciples were, and yet they could not celebrate Easter until they walked a very long ways. Jesus and the disciples who were so eager to see their Lord were in close proximity initially but the reunion came only after a long trip.
After all, in one sense Jesus was already in a prime spot after he was raised from the dead. Jerusalem was the place to make a splash. Herod was there, Pontius Pilate was there, the Temple hierarchy was there—shoot, everybody who had convicted and killed Jesus was there. These are the people whom we would have suggested the resurrected Jesus visit. But true to form Jesus didn’t do it. It was back to Galilee for the resurrected Lord of life even as it was to Galilee that Jesus journeyed first following his baptism by John earlier in Matthew. The gospel ends the way it began: in an out-of-the-way place and in a very quiet, unassuming fashion.
It hardly looked like the way to get the attention of the whole world, even though doing that is more-or-less what Jesus commissions the disciples to do in Matthew’s famous closing verses. In the wake of Jesus’ entire life, and now certainly of his amazing resurrection, we are to go out and tell everyone about Jesus. But how do we do that? Does Matthew 28 provide any hints or clues? In a way I think it does.
To start, notice what Matthew 28 does not provide. In Matthew Jesus proffers no explanation for just how his death and resurrection “work” to help other people. Obviously Jesus benefitted from his own resurrection, but how does it help you or me or anyone else? Jesus does not say. In fact, in Matthew 28 Jesus does not even mention the words “salvation,” “sin,” “atonement.”
All that we have is Jesus alive again, claiming that somehow he now holds all the authority in the universe. So what the disciples are commissioned to do is to tell people that Jesus is alive. Somehow we need to bring people into the presence of this supremely alive Person in the hope that once they meet Jesus, everything else will fall into place. Our message is life. Our message is affirming of creation and of our lives in it. Our message is joy and, even if it takes a long trip to journey to get to where Jesus is, it’s worth the trip because of the life-affirming exuberance that awaits us at our destination. We are supposed to be zesty people as Christians, radiating life and goodness in a world of death and rottenness.
The first Easter began with a long journey. But it was worth the trip for the disciples because life and joy and wholeness were waiting at the destination. The question Easter poses to us today is whether we exude that same life now, whether we are an attractive destination toward which people would be willing to travel to meet Jesus.
That’s a tricky question for us to face these days. Today there is a tendency to confuse exuding true life with exuding success in the glitzy way the world defines success. Today some confuse resurrection joy with spine-tingling excitement the way Disney World and Hollywood define such excitement. Matthew says that to get to Jesus the disciples had to head out into the sticks to a remote place where they encountered the quiet joy of Jesus. But today some prefer to keep Jesus on Main Street, packaging the gospel like a tailor-made, catered product for the “my way right away” generation of consumers.
There can be no doubt that churches should be places of deep-seated joy; they should be zestful places of life and holy liveliness, and not places of death and finger-wagging judgment only. But those precious features need to be on display in very Christ-like ways. Jesus tells us that our post-Easter job is to embody and also teach all that he commanded. But what kinds of things did Jesus have in mind? What has Jesus “commanded” in Matthew? After all, to the chagrin of the Pharisees Jesus had not exactly behaved like some morality cop. Jesus did not strut around Palestine like some moral drill sergeant. So what “commands” could Jesus have had in mind in Matthew 28?
Well, Jesus commanded that we love each other. Jesus commanded that we love our enemies and show compassion to all neighbors. Jesus commanded that we be forgiving, that we seek the lost, that we welcome those whose status in life is like that of lowly little children. In short, Jesus commanded a kingdom life even as he repeatedly said in parables that the kingdom of God is small, hidden, even invisible by the world’s standards. At the core of the kingdom is joy and grace, kindness and compassion, mercy and love. That’s mostly quiet stuff. Compassion doesn’t make a lot of noise typically, neither do grace and kindness. Yet Jesus says these are resurrection fruits. Jesus was God’s action in the world. If we want to get in on that action, we need to be like Jesus.
That is the irony of Matthew 28. We are so familiar with this famous passage that we maybe don’t recognize the irony but think about it: the disciples have Jesus back again. There he is, undeniably real and alive and in the flesh. It is highly dramatic. Surely the disciples wanted to show him off, rush him back to Jerusalem where they could drop in on King Herod or Pontius Pilate or the chief priests in order to say, “Look who we’ve got back with us! We win, you lose! Now do you believe in Jesus as the Messiah!?” But Jesus authorizes nothing of the kind. Why do you think he left Jerusalem? Probably to avoid precisely that kind of overly dramatic, loud, brash bashing of people with the drama of it all.
Go back to my earlier analogy about the grandchild being whisked to Pittsburgh: if such an odd thing really were done, there would have to be a very, very good reason for it. So also with Jesus leaving the disciples behind in Jerusalem, delaying their experience of Easter by a day or two: there must have been a good reason. Perhaps that reason was that the glitz and glamour of how a raised person would be received in so big a town was what Jesus wanted to avoid. So it is no surprise to discover at the end of Matthew 28 Jesus authorizing something much quieter, though no less sincere, vital, and alive. Indeed, do you know what Jesus left them with? Just water and words. Jesus gives them baptism and his own words from the gospel.
Why didn’t Jesus stay in Jerusalem that first Easter Sunday? Why didn’t he shake people up with the drama of a visibly resurrected body? Maybe it’s just not the way to reach people, not the way God wants to change the world. For the disciples Easter began with a journey. To see Jesus the disciples had to hit the road and go to the quiet place where he was waiting for them. You have to wonder what they talked about along the way. Maybe they grumbled some. “Nothing is ever easy with being a disciple,” they perhaps muttered to each other while trudging that long road to Galilee.
No, discipleship is not easy. Our world is not clamoring to trudge over to those out-of-the-way latter-day mountaintops to let us introduce them to Jesus. Easter is not easy, nor is the Easter life we are called to live. But we are not alone! We do have Jesus with us, after all! And we do have his gospel. We do have his life to proclaim first and forever. That is more than enough for us to go on, more than enough to save the world.
A friend of mine was frustrated some while back at a meeting where at least a couple of people were hemming and hawing about taking this or that aspect of the Bible literally. This prompted my preacher friend to relate a story of something that happened to him probably thirty years ago. One Sunday he preached about Jesus’ resurrection. Monday morning, first thing, the phone rang. It was a high-powered, big city lawyer who had been in church the day before. “I need to talk to you right away,” the lawyer said. The pastor invited the man over and as the lawyer came into the study he immediately said, “I have just one question for you: do you believe that Jesus was really raised from the dead? Do you really believe it?”
“Yes, I really do,” the pastor replied.
The lawyer smiled and said, “Thank you, that’s all I needed to know.” And then he left.
Jesus really was raised from the dead. He really is still alive and he really is still right here in our every act of love, kindness, grace, compassion, and hope. Jesus lives and so do we. That’s all most people need to know.
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
“He was not seen by all the people.”
This is what Peter tells Cornelius here in Acts 10 as he sums up the story arc of Jesus’ life, including the world-altering fact of his having been raised from the dead. Jesus was raised again! He arose!! But . . . by way of a wee caveat Peter has to admit, “He was not seen by all the people.”
To do a Mr. Rogers moment: “Boys and girls, can you say ‘Understatement’?”
As a matter of fact, the resurrected Lord of life was seen by startlingly few people, and not just on the day he actually burst the bands of death and walked alive out of a tomb. He was seen by precious few folks across the whole forty days he hung around on earth prior to returning to his Father in the Ascension.
And even those few who did see him post-Easter apparently had very little to share about those forty days since the Gospels—and the very first few verses of Acts—are all-but mum on any events during that six-week timeframe or on anything Jesus said. Consider the 4 Gospels:
–Mark famously gives us nothing after the announcement of the angels.
–Matthew gives us only the mountaintop encounter at which the Great Commission is issued.
–Luke has a tidge more via the Road to Emmaus story (though even that is still on the day of resurrection itself) and then the brief appearance of Jesus in Acts 1.
–Only John gives a bit more at the end of John 20 and then on into the scene by the lake in John 21.
But that’s it. Forty whole days passed with the resurrected Lord of lords and King of kings walking the soil of this earth but he was seen by almost no one and apparently said and did so little of note that the evangelists recorded basically nothing.
I realize the line quoted above represents just a tiny sliver of this Easter day Lectionary reading from Acts 10 but there is something about that line that captures the strange reality of the resurrection as even the Bible presents it. And maybe that, as much as anything, is a worthy thing to wonder about as Easter rolls around once more. Why does the New Testament itself present the grandest miracle of them all—the very in-breaking of our future into a moment of history—in such understated, non-dramatic ways? It’s not how most of us would have written it up had we been given the chance. It’s not what Hollywood would do with the story. It’s not even what most churches today do with Easter as we pull out all the stops on the organ, import all the brass instrumentalists we can find, and then sing and shout and carry on with as much fanfare as we can muster.
But not the Bible. For some reason Jesus did not put in any show-stopping appearances in front of Pontius Pilate and Herod in a kind of “I told you so” slam dunk. He didn’t even show himself to the religious leaders of the Pharisees and Chief Priests and all the others in whose faces the raised Lord of Life could have wagged a bony (but very much alive) finger so as to say, “You see, I was right when I said you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you!!”
Nope. Nothing of the sort happens. Jesus does instead exactly what Peter articulates in Acts 10: he relies on the witness of those to whom he did reveal himself to preach this message and to let the Holy Spirit of God generate faith among whomever the Spirit will, which in the case of Acts 10 ends up being a very unexpected and surprising group of Italians who, to Peter’s still-Jewish mindset, could not have been farther outside the bounds of the kingdom. (As Fred Craddock wryly noted in a sermon on this passage following Cornelius’s invitation that Peter stay and dine with them: “Can you imagine that? Pizza?”)
But why? Why rely on uneducated fishermen, women (whose witness was always suspect in a patriarchal society), and the rest of the somewhat rag-tag group of people who went on after Pentecost to tell the world a truth that the man at the center of that truth did not do himself? I think we too often fail to appreciate the miracle that just is the Church. For all its problems, struggles, and outright sins past and present (and future) the sheer fact of the Church—that it exists at all and has flourished across two millennia now—does stand as its own kind of grand miracle and may be as fine a testament as any to the fact that there is a power at work in the Church that remains every bit as surprising and shocking as what Peter felt the day he found the Holy Spirit blowing dramatically through the house of a man named Cornelius.
If the Bible proves anything, it is the reality of the line that “God’s ways are not our ways.” We never would have thought to launch the salvation of the world with a childless pair of senior citizens. But God did. We would never have tapped a self-effacing stutterer to become the leader who would take on one of the most powerful men in the world.
But God did.
We would not have used the madam of a brothel to deliver a sermon designed to buck up God’s nervous people.
But God did.
And we would most assuredly have never sent the Savior of the world into the uterus of a simple peasant girl who would then deliver him in a barn out in the backwaters of the empire.
But God did.
So why is it ultimately no surprise that even the grand miracle that just is Easter would play out the way it did. From the outside looking in, we’d all say, “That can’t work! Don’t do it that way!”
But God did.
And it worked.
Thanks be to God.
In “Christus Paradox” Sylvia Dunstan captured the ironies of Christ’s simultaneously being God and Servant in ways that go along with what we have been thinking about here in terms of the odd—yes, the paradoxical—nature of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and even resurrection.
You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd. You, Lord, are both prince and slave. You, peacemaker and swordbringer Of the way you took and gave. You the everlasting instant; You, whom we both scorn and crave.
Clothed in light upon the mountain, Stripped of might upon the cross, Shining in eternal glory, Beggar’d by a soldier’s toss, You, the everlasting instant; You, who are both gift and cost.
You, who walk each day beside us, Sit in power at God’s side. You, who preach a way that’s narrow, Have a love that reaches wide. You, the everlasting instant; You, who are our pilgrim guide.
Worthy is our earthly Jesus! Worthy is our cosmic Christ! Worthy your defeat and vict’ry. Worthy still your peace and strife. You, the everlasting instant; You, who are our death and life. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. You, who are our death and our life.
Author: Doug Bratt
Comments and Observations
Few preachers or teachers will likely choose this as the sole passage for reflection at Easter. In fact, worship leaders must take a few homiletical steps to even get to Easter through Psalm 114. Yet it doesn’t just have significance in the light of the “exodus” that is Christ’s passage from death to life. It might also stand alone as a subject for reflection and proclamation.
Psalm 114’s focus seems to be on God’s liberation of God’s Hebrew children from Egyptian slavery. However, a couple of more themes echo throughout. The poet refers twice to God’s presence in and with Israel. “Judah became God’s sanctuary,” the poet writes in verse 2a. In verse 7 she adds, “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord …”
What’s more, the theme of water is also prominent in Psalm 114. In fact, the psalmist refers to some form of it six times. “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back,” the psalmist sings in verse 3. “Why was it, O sea, that you fled, O Jordan, that you turned back,” he asks in verse 5. In verse 8 the poet asserts the God of Jacob “turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.”
If Psalm 114 is a hymn of praise to the God who freed Israel from Egyptian slavery, it’s Exodus with a twist. The narratives of the Scriptures refer to the Israelites passing through the sea in order to continue on to the land of promise. This psalm’s Israel, as it were, “stops” at Rephidim and Meribah.
So what’s going on here? Scholars such as Richard D. Nelson suggest the psalmist is synchronizing and making present to worshipers the creation and exodus. He portrays both creation and the exodus as battles between Yahweh and the forces of chaos. The primordial chaos and Jordan’s waters don’t simply dry up and divide. They turn around and run away in the face of God’s creating, sustaining power.
In a similar way the unformed creation and wilderness hills don’t remain the immovable objects they seem. In the face of God’s creative and sustaining power they get up and jump around like spring lambs. In a similar vein, the psalmist suggests in the face of God’s great power, rocks turn into puddles and springs.
In the face of God’s gracious onslaught, the poet invites the forces of chaos to “tremble” (7). Yahweh has shown, after all, that God can turn death-dealing desert into land suitable for cultivation, chaos into order. In other words, not even chaos and death can resist the life-giving power of Yahweh.
Is there a hint here of post-exilic Israel’s deathly status? The psalmist, after all, asserts when God led Israel out of Egypt, she became “God’s sanctuary” and “dominion” (2). At the Exodus, in other words, God made God’s home among the Israelites. They became God’s “dominion,” the people whom God graciously ruled. This is not a picture of a dead folk, but a very lively one. Interestingly, the word English Bibles generally translate as “dominion” (mamslotay) can also be translated army. Might this hint at the role God’s redeemed people can play in helping to tame nature’s chaotic forces?
Christians have long linked the symbols of the Exodus to Easter. We’ve seen in the waters that fled before God’s power a symbol of the waters of death through which Christ passed when the Romans crucified him. Like the mountains that skipped like lambs and the rock that turned into water, God turned death’s tomb into a portal to life when God raised Jesus from the dead.
However, in Israel’s exodus from Egyptian slavery, Christians have also always seen a reflection of our own story, by God’s grace. God has rescued us from the dominion of sin and death to be God’s own people whom God graciously rules. In the face of God’s creating and sustaining power, even death must turn back and flee. From the “hard rock” (8) that is life-giving streams of water flow, nourishing God’s peoples’ whole selves.
Psalm 114 serves as an ancient reminder that neither chaos nor death gets the last word in the life of either God’s creation or God’s “sanctuary” and “dominion.” Where there is life, there is hope that the various waters will turn back and mountains will dance before the Lord of life.
Author: Stan Mast
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
My Easter sermon on this text would be entitled something like “Living It Up,” or simply “Up!” I would focus people’s attention on Paul’s command to “set your minds on things above” by telling them the delightful, improbable, uplifting story entitled “Up!” That was the title of a computer animated movie a few years ago. It told the story of a Carl, a crabby old man, and Russell, a little boy who makes the old man his project so that he can earn his Boy Scout-esque merit badge in “Assisting the Elderly.” Carl is crabby because he has never gotten over the death of his beloved wife. And he has never forgotten their dream of traveling to South America to find a famous explorer and the fabled bird he had allegedly discovered. Carl attaches thousands of helium-filled balloons to his old house and it goes up, up and away, with Russell as a stowaway. They float all the way to Paradise Falls, Venezuela, where they find the explorer and the bird and a new love for each. After a series of adventures filled with danger and humor, Carl and Russell float up and back home where they live happily ever after.
My summary doesn’t begin to do justice to “Up!” But I wouldn’t go into more detail in my sermon because that’s not really the story we should focus on today. The Bible offers us a better story, a story even more delightful, improbable, and uplifting. It’s about a little boy who was born in a barn, raised as an obscure carpenter, became a famous preacher and healer, and got himself killed on a cross. “Lo, in the grave he lay… but then up from the grave he arose….” Our congregations know that story well, of course, but our text this morning says a surprising thing about it. “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above….” This Easter morning we can encourage the church to “live up” by digging down into this uplifting text.
Colossians was written to people who were busy tying balloons to their houses in an effort to get up for life. Some of them were trying to get up with new ways of thinking, what Paul in Col. 2:8 calls “empty and deceitful philosophy.” Popular gurus and media personalities and even preachers were telling them that if they just thought about their lives differently, their fortunes and their health and their relationships would soar. Others were trying to elevate their lives with a list of rules, what Paul in Col. 2:20 calls “the basic principles of the world.” These people believed that their lives would go up and up if they took a highly disciplined approach to diet and exercise and special religious ceremonies. And still others were getting high with new forms of spirituality, new ways of getting in touch with the spiritual dimension of life. In Col. 2:18 Paul mentions the worship of angels, spiritual beings who are not God. Even back then there were people who were spiritual, but not religious in the Christian sense. If we can just attach the right kind of balloons to our lives, we can live it up.
Paul wrote Colossians to tell them that all of those balloons wouldn’t work. Oh, you might get a little lift, a temporary high, but to be able to live up, to be able to soar above the sorrow and boredom and frustration and death of this world, little helium filled balloons won’t do the job. What we need, says Paul, is a whole new reality and a new response to that reality. That’s how you get up—not with some man-made balloons, but with a new response to the new reality created by God in Jesus Christ.
Two words sum up that new reality—“with Christ.” What Christ did and does and will do changes your life because of your union with him. Note the exact parallels between the life of Christ and the lives of those who are with him by virtue of their faith. Christ died, and you died with him (2:12). Christ rose, and you rose with him (3:1). Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (3:3). Christ will appear in glory, and you will appear with him (3:4). Your life was once focused on yourself; now, because of your union with Christ, he is your life (3:4). Because of your union with Christ, you now live in a whole new reality created by the death, resurrection, session, and return of Christ. He has made all things new for you, and the secret of living up is to set your mind on that new reality, not on the old reality that once dominated your life.
Of course, Paul begins here with the historical high point, the clearest revelation, the most convincing proof of that new reality, namely, the resurrection of Jesus. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ….” But we have not been raised with Christ if Christ did not rise. Indeed, says Paul in I Corinthians 15, everything hinges on that reality. If Christ has not been raised, then the whole Christian faith is a lie. We are still in our sins, and we might just as well start blowing up any balloon we can find. But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruit of those of those who have fallen asleep (I Cor. 15:20).
Those last words from I Corinthians 15 point to another dimension of the new reality created by Christ’s resurrection. Because of his resurrection, we can look forward to our own resurrection if we believe in him. Here’s how Paul puts it verse 4. “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” On the last day of human history, Jesus will return and raise us up in glory and honor. (Cf. I John 3:2, Phil. 3:20, and Romans 8:29 for other promises about the glory Christ will give us at the end.) That’s the new reality! “Up from the grave we will rise.”
Nearly every Sunday millions of Christians profess their faith in that new reality when they recite the Apostles’ Creed. But here in Colossians 3 Paul says something about this new reality that we rarely confess and don’t believe or live very much. He puts it, not in the future tense, but in the past. “Since then you have been raised with Christ….” What on earth can that mean? We understand that Jesus was raised 2,000 years ago. And we believe that we will be raised 2,000 years from now, or whenever that happens. But we can’t wrap our heads around the fact that we have already been raised with Christ.
What can that possibly mean? Well, in Col. 2:12 Paul gives us a hint when he says we have been “buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.” Somehow our baptism and our faith have so united us with Christ, that his resurrection raised us to new life.
Paul uses two wonderful phrases to describe that new life. In verse 3 he says this mysterious thing, “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” It’s hard to penetrate the meaning of those words. Maybe it’s best to think analogically. We are like a hidden treasure. Our lives are kept in the safest safe in the world. The world cannot see our life with Christ; indeed, much of the time we can’t either. But it is as real as Jesus’ resurrection. And though we often feel exposed and vulnerable to the dangers of the world, the higher reality is that our lives are safe and secure because we are hidden with Christ in God. I love those two prepositions—“with” and “in.” They are like a double lock. I heard a commercial for a Liberty safe the other day. The pitchman said it was the best safe on the planet. Paul claims that we live in the best safe in the universe, hidden with Christ in God. So even when we get sick, or suffer loss, or die, we are kept safe and secure with Christ in the very heart of God.
Not only is your life hidden with Christ, says Paul in verse 4, but also “Christ… is our life….” We understand this dimension of the new reality better than the previous one, because we say this kind of thing all the time. “My grandchildren are my life.” “My boyfriend is my life.” “My job is my life.” When I was growing up in Denver, basketball was my life. Everything revolved around that sport. I practiced all the time, even when ice covered the court. I prepared religiously for every game, and I relived every game for days. I wouldn’t try skiing because I couldn’t bear the thought missing the season with a broken leg. I wouldn’t go out carousing with the guys, because if I got caught I’d get cut from the team, and that would have been death. I didn’t stay out late at night before a game, because that would weaken my endurance. Basketball was my life. Because we have been raised with Christ, Christ is our life, the source of our joy, our strength, our peace, our direction, our salvation, our place in God’s heart. That’s the new resurrection reality.
The problem is that we so often don’t live in that reality. We live in what the world says is real, not what God says is real. And the world is deceptive. You have probably seen the blockbuster movie The Hunger Games. It is set in a future America now called Panem, in which the government forces young people to battle to the death in a computer controlled ecosystem. Some Christians are turned off by that vision of violent youth. But what really struck me was the way the rulers of Panem used the TV broadcasts of the carefully crafted false reality of the “hunger games” to control the lives of the masses. That’s a picture of our culture.
In our Easter text Paul calls us to live by another reality, the reality of our resurrection with Christ. To live in that new reality, says Paul, here’s what you have to do. “Set your mind on things above where Christ is seated on the right hand of God.”
“Set your minds….” That’s the new response that will enable you to live up. It’s not enough to believe that the uplifting story of Easter is reality. You can believe that and be “down” all the time. What you have to do, says Paul, is set your minds on what you believe. That’s hard to do. As the old desert fathers used to say, our minds are like a tree full of monkeys. We mentally jump from one thing to another in nano-seconds. To live in the reality of the resurrection, to experience the fact that we have been raised with Christ and our life is hid with Christ in God, to enjoy Christ as the center of life, we must set out minds on things above.
By “things above,” Paul doesn’t mean you have to constantly think about heaven with its angels and harps. And he doesn’t mean that we have to occupy ourselves with all sorts of uplifting ideas and practices; he has just deflated those balloons in Col. 2. To understand what Paul means by “things above” just look at his very next words: “where Christ seated at the right hand of God.” He is not calling us to live with our heads in the clouds. He is calling us to keep our minds on Christ who, according to Ephesians 1:23, is at God’s right hand ruling everything on earth for the blessing of those who say, “Christ is my life.”
In other words, set your mind on this. At the center of the universe, and this world, and your life is a Father. He’s invisible. He’s silent. He seems far away. He even seems hostile sometimes. But at his right hand is our crucified and risen Savior ruling all things for our good. Because he is, we can know for sure that our Father loves us. And that’s the most uplifting thing in the world.
I just finished reading a fascinating, depressing, uplifting memoir by Ian Cron, entitled Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me. On the cover is a picture of the author as a tow-headed child sitting in a row boat waving at the person taking the picture. Cron wanted that picture on the cover of his memoir because it is a visual record of his lifelong search for his CIA employed father, a mean, abusive alcoholic who made Ian’s life a living hell.
Cron compares himself to young Telemachus, the hero of Homer’s 2,500-year-old epic poem Odyssey. Telemachus leaves home on a perilous journey over the “wine dark sea” in search of his father, Odysseus. Here’s the parallel. “Twenty three years after my father’s death, I am still the boy in the boat, scanning the horizon for him. Many of my achievements have been a way of calling out to him over the roar of the ocean…. I am embarrassed to admit that the question I call over the waves never changes: ‘Did you love me?’”
The details of our stories may differ from Ian’s, but that is the central question of human existence. “Father, God, do you love me?” That’s why Paul says, “Set your minds on things above,” on a new reality, on the risen and ruling Christ. Focus on the delightful, improbable, uplifting story of Jesus death and resurrection, and you’ll know that God loves you completely.
So, on this Easter Sunday, let’s say to our listeners and to ourselves, “Think up! Look up! Set your mind on the risen Christ ruling all things for you, and live up. God loves you to death, and to life. Up!”
On the cover of the February 3, 2014 issue of Time magazine is a picture of a lovely blond woman. Her eyes are closed in relaxed concentration, her lips curved in a blissful smile, her face a study in contentment. Beneath this picture of peace are these words: “The Mindfulness Revolution: The science of finding focus in a stressed-out, multitasking culture.” Inside this issue of Time is a fascinating article about the “mindfulness revolution” that is sweeping the nation. Born of Eastern mysticism, especially Buddhism, this practice of mindfulness promises its devotees a whole new life. “If distraction is the pre-eminent condition of our age, then mindfulness, in the eyes of its enthusiasts, is the most logical response…. The ultimate goal is simply to give your attention fully to what you are doing.”
Apart from its Eastern roots, the call to mindfulness sounds a bit like Paul’s words in our text. But according to Paul, what we must set our minds on is not what we are doing, but on what God in Christ has done, is doing, and will do. The center of reality is not our own life, but the life, death, resurrection, session, and return of Christ. If we set our mind on that, we will live it up with Christ.