On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the Body of the Lord Jesus.
The other day while in some doctor’s office, a nurse and I were visiting while she took my vitals and told me I need to lose weight. Who knew? I was so surprised! She then told me her father-in-law is Catholic and expects her to give up something for Lent, even though she is not Catholic. I surmise her intention was to provide me with a religious reason to give up food, since she is giving up meat, which turns out not to be a challenge for her since she loves fish. Frankly, I do not. I can tolerate a few mild-flavored fish, but just a few, and all things considered, I’d rather not eat it at all. I’m a beef eater, a born and raised carnivore, and slimy, scaly things that come from the water do not appeal to me in any form. However, if I must eat fish, then it certainly ought to be heavily battered and deep-fried, which really rather negates its health benefits when you think about it. So, diverting the discussion from right round self, I told her I’m a Methodist minister and I observe Lent. The point of Lent is not simply to give up something, but to separate ourselves from this world somewhat and to attach ourselves more to Christ, which turned out to be a helpful piece of information for her. While no doubt she is correct that I ought to separate myself from more or excess food, giving up something to which one is indifferent for something one loves hardly constitutes a sacrifice. It is, for example, no problem at all for me to give up fish. Sign me up! I’ll make the sacrifice of giving up fish for Lent!
We’re in the first week of Lent. Discussion of the Resurrection seems a bit premature, but if we intend to take the Lenten journey, it is a good idea to be reminded of its conclusion. Lent is the season of preparation for Easter, a time of repentance and penance, of sacrifice and self-denial. No one I have ever known gets excited about any of these. To be sure, most of us are of the opinion we should repent, even if we are not entirely clear about what we are to be repenting. Fewer of us are committed to the idea of penance for our sins, again, especially if we’re not exactly sure which sins need repenting. Virtually all of us, however, believe in self-denial and sacrifice. Theoretically… I mean, Jesus certainly emphasized both, and we definitely agree with Jesus. But, really, sacrifice is a medicine best taken in small doses, and self-denial ought to be practiced in “non-quality-of-life” areas, much like the nurse who gave up meat.
Typically, when we think about preparing for Easter, we start with what decorations are appropriate for the yard, when we will hold the egg hunt and for which children, the number of family likely to come to Easter dinner and what we’ll serve, and who needs new clothes for Easter worship. Our minds do not go immediately to the empty tomb in awe of the Resurrection. In fact, we’ve talked about the Resurrection for so long, most of us are not even amazed that Jesus rose from the dead. The moment we are no longer stunned and humbled by the Resurrection, the serious observance of Lent becomes unnecessary, as do sacrifice and self-denial, and sadly, that is where most of us are.
If what we say we believe is true, that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then that is the single, most important fact in the whole of human history. The physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the departure of His human Body to realms unknown and unknowable to us, reveals there is more to reality than anything we have ever imagined. Any life lived within the constraints of what we see and know in this world is a half-lived life, at best. Still, so many folks settle for that, never guessing there is more, and never knowing the more is infinitely better than what we have now.
For as long as we have been alive, and for several generations before us, faith has been slowly and relentlessly pushed to the edges of our society – in our laws and values, in our education and entertainment, and inevitably, in our self-understanding and ambitions. In every area of life, the culture in which we live intentionally has marginalized religious faith and belief, particularly Christian faith. As goes the culture, so go our own ways of thinking, being, and living. If none of our leaders, thinkers, doctors and/or other societal authorities think faith is relevant to how we ought to live our lives, then no matter how devout we intend to be, slowly but surely, our faith influences ever-decreasing aspects of life. We are heading in the wrong direction, away from that which is astoundingly and astonishingly true. All of our knowledge falls far short of the truth.
This is so important for Christians to understand. In a world that in great degree denies the necessity of God and is becoming increasingly anesthetized to the Gospel, that same attitude inevitably encroaches into our own beliefs. We expect far too little of God, and we hold far too high an opinion of what we think we know. To suppose that anything is more important than the Gospel – anything – is a grave error. Life where Jesus now lives, where His Body was raised, is eternal and everlasting, and it is our destiny as well. To order our lives according to any other priority or value brings disorder and destruction, if not now, then eventually. I will grant that one can live one’s entire life without a thought to God. Sadly, that is becoming more and more common. But in so doing, we become less than who and what God created us to be. We become less human.
The challenge for most of us, however, is this: if the Resurrection is true, then a whole host of other things are true, from the reality of evil and the demonic, to sanctions on our favorite behaviors, to being hated by the world, to self-denial and sacrifice. Contrary to popular opinion, it is okay to deny yourself, not to give yourself everything you want. One might even go so far as to suggest that a little sincere and intentional self-denial would benefit every single one of us. Lent is a burden only because we want our world, this world, more than we want the Kingdom of Heaven. When we confuse this world for all that is real, we make it far more important than it is. Our greatest successes and most spectacular failures are mitigated by the reality of a Kingdom we cannot even see, much less imagine. The only pathway to the Resurrection is through death to the world. Somewhere, far beyond our eyes and ears, our Savior lives, a Man born of Mary over 2,000 years ago. The world can’t match that for amazing.
The goal of Lent is to prepare us to rise with Christ, at least in spirit, and we cannot rise if we are holding too tightly to our world. Taking the time to prepare ourselves for the Resurrection is wholly appropriate. There is much that separates each of us from our God, much for which we need to repent, not that we might be miserable, but that we might experience the joy of truly being alive. Real life, authentic life is eternal with Christ. It is the privilege of every Christian to participate in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ now through the presence of God’s own Spirit within us. Moreover, it is also our privilege and our responsibility to be bearers of that same life to a world that cannot see beyond itself, a world blinded by darkness of soul.
Where is Jesus’ Body today? Where does Mary’s Son live now? For all the years that we’ve celebrated Easter, and all the sermons on the Resurrection that we have heard, take time to stop and wonder, “Where did Jesus go?” That is where life reigns, abundant and full of love and joy. Reach for Him there by letting go of something here.
In Christ –
© SFCM, 2018