Easter is a great day to be in church, and on this particular year, it is not only Easter but also…. April Fools Day. Which opens up so. many. possibilities. to mess with the children in our lives today.
Possibilities to do things like this:
One parent unwrapped all the chocolate candy and used the wrappers to wrap us these grapes to put in their kids Easter basket. And what is a parent supposed to do with all that chocolate? Guess we better eat it.
Another parent filled Easter eggs. But not with candy. With vegetables.
Or there was another parent who was really committed and carefully filled this chocolate bunny… with mustard.
There is this Easter basket filled not with toys or candy but with …. cleaning supplies.
Or, I think this one’s my favorite- this person made cake pops with a chocolate coating surrounding…Brussel sprouts.
This Easter may be April Fool’s Day, but this Easter, like every Easter, we come together as the church. The lilies are ready. The music is prepared. The ham is cooking.
And, once again this year, we read the story of Easter in the Bible. The story of what happened on that Sunday morning nearly 2000 years ago is the most important story of why we believe Jesus was more than just a man.
Jesus did a lot of great things when he was here. He looked out for outsiders, he healed people who were sick, he fed the hungry, he challenged the corrupt people in power, both in the government and in his religion. He cared about children. He taught people how to live.
But it’s this one story, the one we tell every Holy Week, that started a movement that changed the world, and became the faith we hold to today. That same man who healed and taught and loved was then killed as a criminal and put to rest in a tomb. He was very much dead.
Then, after a very long Saturday for his followers, we have this story from the gospel of Luke:
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
The “they” in this story are a group of women who knew and loved Jesus. They were overcome with grief but they knew there was work to be done. His body needed to be prepared for a proper burial. So they come to the tomb, ready to do the hardest thing that they had ever done.
But when they got there:
2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified
Of course they were terrified! They were expecting to find the body of Jesus but the place where he had been was empty, and then two angels have appeared out of nowhere. The story goes on, saying they were terrified…
and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
In a matter of moments, it goes from the a story that would end their time following Jesus to the beginning of something very new. The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive. And these three women with their friends would be the first to witness the resurrection, the very first evangelists to share this good news. The women run to tell the apostles:
11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
The women ran to tell the apostles, who didn’t believe them, it seemed way too good to be true. Except for Peter.
Peter, who had denied even knowing Jesus when things went south, is the only one who seems to have any hope left. He jumps to his feet. He runs to the tomb. And it was true. Jesus had risen. Just like he said he would.
This is the story that started it all. It’s so important that we tell it every year on Easter. Every year we come together as a group to tell this story, to remember, to look back.
Looking back can be really important for us.
It keeps us from forgetting stories like this one. It reminds us what we believe and why it matters. When we look back and think about where we have come from it helps us refocus on what really matters to us.
It gives us perspective on where we have been and shows us where we go from here. So it’s not repetitive to tell this story every year. It’s essential for us. Looking back at the story of Easter pulls us back to who we are, it reconnects us with why we come to church at all.
But sometimes our reminiscing isn’t so helpful.
Sometimes, we look back at our own lives, and it’s…. not so great. Sure, we’ve done some things we are proud of, but most of us have also made some pretty big mistakes. We remember the people we hurt, the missteps we’ve made.
We have regrets of the things we should have done, the opportunities we had to do the right thing that we didn’t take. Looking back isn’t always so easy for us, when we are really honest about where we’ve been.
But our past, our mistakes aren’t the whole story, because Jesus’ story didn’t end in the tomb. That’s the good news of Easter, for us.
When we look back at our mistakes, our regrets, our sin, we need to keep looking back even further, all the way to the cross and resurrection of Christ.
And that changes everything.
Karl Barth once wrote, “It is always the case that when the Christian looks back, he is looking at the forgiveness of sins.”
So we look back at our own lives, and we still see everything we have done.
But we look at it through the cross, seeing first what Jesus has done for us.
When Jesus died, all of our sin, our mistakes, our shortcomings, died with him. And when he rose from the dead on Easter, we got a second chance. We get new life. We are forgiven.
So now, when we look back, we don’t only see our mistakes. We see grace. What happened all those years ago on that first Easter means we, today are forgiven.
Jesus’ story has rewritten ours.
Another one of the writers who recorded Jesus’ story was named John, and he said this in a passage that has since become famous in the book of John, chapter 3:
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
All that Jesus did, he did out of love, for you. For me. Because of Jesus, we are forgiven.
Now if you’re not a Christian, or if you aren’t sure about Jesus, we want to stop here for a minute. Because we know there is nothing we can say in one post that will make anyone say “Wait – Jesus rose from the dead? In that case, I’m in!”
It’s not about hearing or reading one sermon – especially when the story is this familiar. It’s a process.
Learning about who Jesus was and what he did and why it is still important today is a process.
Which is why this year we’re doing this project on Everything Jesus Taught. We are studying and learning about all the things Jesus has said and done, not just the ones we like or the ones that are convenient, or have holidays built around them, but the hard ones too.
And one of those things Jesus taught a lot about was forgiveness.
You are forgiven.
No matter what you’ve done.
No matter where you’ve been.
God’s grace gives you a second chance.
And second chances are pretty hard to come by.
Because we’re not so gracious with one another. Our memory of our own mistakes is pretty thorough. But our memory of the way other people has hurt us is air tight.
As hard as it is for us to accept God’s forgiveness of us, it is even harder for us to forgive other people.
But that’s exactly what we are called to do next.
So starting on April 15th, we are going to spend 3 weeks on how we forgive others. I’d be willing to bet that every person on Earth has someone in their life they are struggling to forgive.
There aren’t any magic solutions (that we know of). But we will see what it would look like to take a step in that direction. We’ll see exactly what Jesus tells us about forgiveness. And we’ll be honest about how tough it can be to forgive.
Because it is tough. It’s really hard, especially if what someone did to you was way worse than replacing your chocolate with grapes or injecting mustard into your chocolate bunny.
Although that’s pretty bad.
So starting on the 15th, we’ll be talking about concrete, specific practices we can do to work on the trying to forgive one another. And it all starts here on Easter.
The cross and resurrection of Jesus are the foundation of all forgiveness.
Forgiving other people it is difficult. It might even feel impossible. But Jesus would never ask you to do something he hasn’t already done.
Love your enemies? Already done.
Look out for the vulnerable? He has done that too.
Jesus tells us to forgive. And he can, because he did it first.
We forgive because first Jesus forgave us.
He forgave us before we even thought to ask.
When there was nothing we could do to repay him, he went to the cross for our sin.
Before we were ever born he laid dead in the tomb on a Saturday.
Before we really saw what we were up against with our own sin and facing death in our lives he was conquering it on our behalf as he rose from the dead, redeeming us, forgiving us, and promising us that one day we would live eternally with him.
The tomb is empty. The victory is won. You are forgiven in Christ.
For today, that’s enough.
But come back in a couple weeks. Because we’ve got work to do.
About the Authors
Megan and David Collins are the co-pastors of Maitland Presbyterian Church near Orlando, FL. Find them on Twitter @davidrcollins and @pastormegan
More Readings for Easter Week
- Matthew 28: 1-20
- Mark 16: 1-20
- Luke 24: 1-53
- John 20: 1-31