As Easter was approaching, I got to thinking again about the “new life” we often hear proclaimed in this joyful season. And it dawned on me that for many people, myself included sometimes, many Christians who celebrate the great festival of Easter, there really isn’t a whole lot that’s “new” about our lives to differentiate from what our “old lives” used to be. I mean, how different really is the life you and I now live that Easter is here? Okay, you’re back to eating chocolate. And your exile from Facebook has come to an end. And you’re back to eating fast food, and ice cream, and drinking soda, and complaining, and being lazy, and making fun of people behind their backs, and watching trashy TV. Oh, I’m sorry. You didn’t give that up for Lent.
In truth, only a few can say they have known drastic and irreversible change. Deacon Dave and his wife Judy just moved into the Shenandoah Valley from New Mexico last week. Their furniture came in Monday, and they haven’t even unpacked all their boxes yet. It’s safe to say they have to deal with a lot that’s “new” in their lives.
As I was checking Facebook last night (yes, I didn’t give it up for Lent), I noticed a couple of updates from young people I know in Roanoke referring to one of their friends. There were a few messages saying “We’ll miss you, Cameron” and “I can’t believe you’re gone.” I checked out the news feeds and learned that an 18 year old Pulaski High School senior, 2 months shy of graduation, died in a car crash on I-81 last Wednesday. His family and friends are having to deal with this “new” reality in their lives, truly drastic and irreversible, a world without their son and brother and friend.
All over the news yesterday morning, an F-18 Hornet Navy jet crashed Friday into a predominantly senior housing complex in Virginia Beach. I know it’s nowhere near where my parents live, or I’d have heard from people by now. Luckily no fatalities were reported, just some minor injuries. And both pilots are doing fine, having safely ejected before the plane crashed. There’s going to be a lot that’s new in a few people’s lives because of this accident. There will be a local investigation as well as one to be conducted by the Navy. And can you imagine coming home to a pile of ashes that used to be your home? Drastic and irreversible change isn’t always fun and exciting.
And the news of a dozen tornadoes touching down in the Midwest last month is still fresh in our minds. Many homes were leveled to the ground, while others were left unscathed. Some families lost everything. Now that’s a significant change to have to deal with, their lives overturned quite a bit.
On a lighter note, as of Saturday morning nine individuals are known to have bought winning lottery tickets in the previous night’s top prize Mega Millions drawing of $20M. And only one person so far (from Kansas) has stepped forward to claim the $80M top prize from Powerball from last Wednesday. It’s hard to imagine their lives won’t be changed drastically and irreversibly by any of this. But it’s something “new” few of us would mind having in our lives. And if anything like that ever happens to you, we could use some help fixing things around here … know what I mean?
But what we celebrate today is an even more drastic and irreversible change than we can ever imagine. It is something “new” that surpasses anything and everything we have ever known and experienced. You and I could never have brought it about on our own. It is something that would have been possible only if God had intervened in the affairs of the human race. And that is exactly what God did.
The original gifts of truth and beauty and goodness that God had entrusted to his creation had sustained extensive damage through many generations of selfishness and arrogance by women and men. From the Book of Genesis we are familiar with our first parents’ rejection of God, an act that sent devastating ripples through the entire human family. Every child of Adam and Eve became subject to darkness and sin. But God came up with a plan. We read in scripture the story of Israel, which is our own story, yours and mine. God chose Israel from among the nations, anointed her with his own dignity, clothed her in majesty, fed and nourished her at his own table, and entrusted to her an everlasting inheritance. But Israel was not faithful. She turned her back to God for the love of earthly things and the worship of idols made by her own hands. Yet God pursued her relentlessly, calling her to repentance for her offenses, and to reconciliation with himself. God sent his own Son into the world so that his obedience would undo the disobedience of Israel. By the horrific passion and death of Jesus Christ on the cross, God gained for us everything we had lost to sin. And in the sacraments of the church, we are snatched from the clutches of the Prince of Darkness. We are chosen, anointed, clothed, and nourished with the very life of God. It is such a drastic and irreversible change from our former subjection to darkness and sin, that our measly attempts at celebrating “new life” at Easter falls incredibly short when we confine it to a greeting card, or a basket of eggs, or a box of chocolates. Undeserving as we are, we have been made sharers in so sublime a gift, and we still fail to grasp its meaning.
If we only understood the significance of that tremendous gift of new life God shares with us this Easter, we would be blown out of our minds. That new life that God gives is our redemption from slavery to selfishness and arrogance and gluttony and lust. It is our release from the prison of our resentments, our bitterness, our jealousy, our pride. It is our liberation from the heavy burden of guilt, of habitual sin, of our unwillingness to forgive ourselves. And what God gives us in place of these is restoration to our former dignity as his beloved children, reconciliation with himself and with one another, and the promise of an everlasting inheritance. If all we have to show for our celebration of Easter is a new outfit or a chocolate bunny, then the opportunity for new life has passed us by once again. Yet all is not lost.
“He has been raised,” the women were told when they came to his tomb. “He is not here.” If he truly lives, we will not find him who lives among the dead. And when we proclaim that the Lord is risen, we hear an echo of his invitation for us to rise from our own death and decay. By his dying and rising to new life, he has gained for us a new and profound freedom. We embrace his gift of new life when we reject our former lives of selfishness and arrogance, our resentments, our lust, our bitterness, our pride. It could be a drastic and irreversible change for us. Wouldn’t it be if someone told you, “You’re not as resentful as you used to be,” or “You’re not as selfish.” So if we truly choose to live this new life, why would we ever return to being dead?