From our Gospel reading these words: Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”   Thus far our text.   Christ is risen!  (He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!)

And because Jesus has died and risen from the grave, I can speak these words to you: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

As we grow up we learn a lot of very important things.  We learn to crawl, and to walk, and to talk.  We learn what brings pain and what brings pleasure; we learn how to read and write, and how to figure things out using principles of math and science.  And we learn a whole lot more.  But of all the things we learn, nothing—absolutely nothing-- compares in importance to this: Jesus loves me, this I know.

So first and foremost, each and every one of us gathered here this Easter morning must hear and believe the truth about grace.  Please listen to these words—familiar to many of us— from Brennan Manning:  I am now utterly convinced that on Judgment Day the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question: “Did you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day?  That I longed to hear your voice.”  The real believers there will answer, “Yes, Jesus, I believed in Your love and I tried to shape my life as a response to it.”  …  Honest to God, the God of so many Christians I meet is a God who is too small for me, because he is not the God of the Word, He is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ who this moment comes right to your seat and says, “I have a word for you: I know your whole life story.  I know every skeleton in your closet.  I know every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty and degraded love that has darkened your past.  Right now, I know your shallow faith, your feeble prayer life, your inconsistent discipleship.  And my word for you is this: I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are and not as you should be, because you’re never gonna be as you should be.”

While He lived among us, Jesus promised His followers that wherever two or more gathered in His name, He would be present among them.  This qualifies.  Jesus, the resurrected Christ, is present with us right here and right now, and I believe in the depth of my heart that He wants each and every one of us to trust that He loves us with an unconditional love, a love described by St. Paul with these words:  Jesus… Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  

Even death on a cross.”  Let’s leave the bright joy of Easter morning for a few moments and return to the darkness of Calvary, and ponder the gruesome crucifixion of Jesus.  At that time, crucifixion was the most horrendous way to put someone to death.  Jesus, who had already been mocked and spat upon, beaten and whipped in extreme fashion, a crown of thorns forced into His scalp, was then nailed to a cross.  The nails were 6-8 inches long, and were driven through the wrist, through a tendon that extends to the shoulder.  By severing that tendon, Jesus was forced to use His back muscles to support Himself to breathe, which was made possible by also nailing His feet to the cross, enabling Jesus to instinctively push Himself up in order to breathe and in order to extend his life... and his suffering . Victims of crucifixion most often died slowly and horrifically by suffocation.  That’s why, in order to hurry up the process, they would break the victim’s legs.

In the midst of that horror, Jesus spoke words of extreme agony—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”- and of extreme grace- “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

Why ponder something so horrific?  Because there is something we must know: those nails did not hold Jesus to the cross.  His love for you and for me and for each and every one of God’s children held Him to the cross.  He was God!  He could have saved himself.  He chose not to.  He chose, instead, to love you!

The most important thing you can ever choose to believe—or choose not to believe—is that God loves you and has gone to extreme measures to demonstrate just how much He loves you.

Now back to the words of Brennan Manning.  The real believers there will answer, “Yes, Jesus, I believed in Your love and I tried to shape my life as a response to it.”  I urge each of us and all of us to not only believe in God’s love, but also, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, to shape our lives as a response to it. 

That is what Paul calls us to do in our First Lesson when he wrote:  “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above… Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  Our response to the radical love and grace of God is to heed Jesus’ call to follow.

And that is my second challenge for all of us to consider this morning.  The first challenge is to truly believe in the amazing love and grace of God.  The second challenge is to respond to that love by loving God, loving one another, and loving all of His children.

You see, many people respond to God’s love by merely becoming fans of God.  We gather at church, at least once in a while, and applaud God for His great works.  And then we go about our lives as normal without God’s love changing anything.

But God’s love does not call us to become fans.  We are called to be followers.  We are called to be continually transformed in heart and mind and soul, so that we might become more and more like Jesus, each and every day, in all that we think, in all that we do, and all that we say.

Christ Himself called his followers to take up a cross and follow Him.  There is nothing easy about following Jesus.   And yet, the truth is, there is no better way to live.  In following Jesus, we are led by His Spirit to discover and experience the beauty of re-creation.  We were created in the image of God, we were created to love… to love God, to love and care for His creation, and to love and serve one another.  The more fully we tap into the infinite reservoir of God’s grace and power, and the more we live our lives in Christ, the more meaningful and joyful and peaceful our lives become.

None of us will ever be able to fully overcome the self-serving nature of sin, which has broken us and our world so very deeply.  But far more deep is the love and grace of God.  That is the message of the cross.  That is the joy of our Easter celebration.  Christ took our punishment and our death upon Himself in order to set us free… to set us free from sin and death, to set us free to live abundant lives in His presence, to continually be drawn closer to Him and closer to one another.  Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.

   April 2019   
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