The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
Easter – April 12, 2020
Though it seems like years ago, it’s only been about a month and a half since the American economy was booming, our globally connected world looked invincible, and hope was bristling in the air.
Today fear sucks the oxygen out of the air, and uncertainty suffocates confidence. People are feeling their mortality and their vulnerability to an invisible assassin they can’t see coming. The economy is on the brink of ruination and folks are worried their jobs or businesses will never come back. We’re all wondering whether the world will ever be the same.
Yet, nothing of ultimate importance has changed. God still rules over creation and restrains evil. God still loves us and still has proof of it by having sent His Son to die for us. And Christ His Son the Savior is still alive in His everlasting resurrection triumph, still present and powerful in this pain-wracked, pandemic-besieged world.
Nothing overwhelms the reality of Easter. Rather, the reality of Easter overshadows everything! It answers our deepest need and sparks beautiful dreams of better days.
The reality of Easter is not a mere idea or doctrine. It has a living face and a name. It is Jesus, the risen God-man who offers life that death cannot defeat.
The reality of Easter is this One who died, rose from the grave, lives yet among us, and longs to share His resurrection victory with us; this One who knows us and whom we can know as one friend knows another; this One who is the most substantive, intriguing and consequential person of the 90 billion who have ever lived on this planet; this One who is God with us here and now, the God for whom nothing is impossible or too wonderful to do for us!
That’s the truth irrespective of whether we believe it – though some of us swear we have experienced first-hand its reality.
Of course, this is a bittersweet Easter. It is celebrated under the shadow of illness, death and grief. And there is no crowd packed into this place buzzing with joy, no pounding drums and blaring brass, no fragrance of Easter lilies and a flowered cross ablaze with color, no warm strong hugs with people dear to us, no visible surge of optimism and good will.
But the church of Christ has passed through worst pandemics before – such as disease outbreaks of the late Roman Empire and the plagues of the Middle Ages – and each time the church has emerged stronger as a result. This pandemic is our opportunity to show how Christ followers are different, not by virtue of who they are in themselves, but by virtue of whose companionship they are lifted up beyond themselves. For whenever anyone invites in the risen Christ, He ignites an explosion of life and implants in them His own vibrant vitality, integrity, zeal for justice and compassion for others.
Those who welcome Jesus to be their companion for life are empowered and equipped to face any challenge.
Let’s note just three of the benefits that come to those who walk through life with the risen Christ.
First, His companionship gives undeterred hope, even if our prospects remain grim.
At the very start of World War II, the Christian poet T.S. Eliot urged the faithful to wait on the Lord “without hope”, as he put it; for, if they were to hope, he said, they’d likely hope for the wrong thing, for less than the higher thing God had in mind.
Eliot felt no assurance that he or his family would be spared from Nazi bombs. He did not expect that God would already, in this present world, make any of them indestructible; but He did hope that, as they prayed and obeyed God’s word, the living Christ would make them indestructible in Christian character. While we might wish He’d protect us from COVID-19 or losing loved ones, Jesus’ promise is to give us meaning, purpose, and a hope that defies danger, a new kind of life in which we become His supernatural re-creation attesting to His resurrection reality and miracle-working presence.
Knowing the companionship of Christ gives undeterred hope. Second, it gives undaunted courage for loving generously, even if it costs us significantly. He who called His followers to deny themselves for the sake of taking care of others did not excuse them from the necessity of sacrifice. He just guaranteed that in giving they’d receive, that in letting go of material advantage they’d gain the inner riches of the Spirit. Among those is the bold and brave cheerfulness that comes to those who practice radical generosity despite the probability of personal deprivation. By being generous to a fault when Christ asks it of us, we come to know Him better; and in coming to know Him better, we come to know the great happiness of providing others evidence that He lives and loves them.
Walking in the company of Christ gives undeterred hope in the face of adversity and undaunted courage in answering the call of love. Third, it gives undisturbed peace in coping within an age of deep anxiety, even when everything is falling apart around us. We grow so content in enjoying His friendship that we grow content in any and every circumstance. From our relationship with Him, we obtain a settled serenity of heart that is independent of our situation in life. We become like a submarine coursing through the tranquil waters fifty fathoms below the raging storm tossing up giant waves. In the depths of our closeness to Christ, we know peace.
This year, we can’t celebrate Easter as before, but we can activate Easter as never before – by trusting in the truth of the story the Bible tells and some of us testify to, by enjoying the companionship of a risen and present Savior, and by experiencing through Him an explosion of new life!
Let us open up, and invite in, the resurrected Christ! He is standing at the door of our heart and awaiting permission to enter. Let us pray.