“Out of Pure Joy”
I’m still on Cloud 9 after last week! Finally, being able to hold an Easter service after two years was an incredible experience. It was an emotional time to be able to sing the hymns of our faith, to share the joy of the Resurrection, and to have people in the sanctuary. When I thought back on last year and the online worship for Holy Week & Easter, I felt the joy that has been lacking over the past year. It was a joy-filled, emotional time.
Easter is an event that naturally brings joy. The journey of Lent with its emphasis on the suffering and death of our Savior, with the sorrow of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, is dark. Lent and Holy Week cause us to think about our sinfulness and our need for repentance as we remember the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.
Easter, then, with the incredible news of Resurrection for Jesus, is like this big “Wahoo!” at the end of a long, dark winter. Easter is God’s breaking out of the grip of death with this huge Victory in raising Jesus. I felt that release last Sunday, experiencing anew the great feeling that Easter brings. I hope you felt it also. We know that the pandemic isn’t over, that there is still a fierce battle raging, but getting together to worship felt like a Resurrection experience.
Can you then imagine the range of emotions the disciples and followers of Jesus felt on that first Easter? They went from the depths of despair, to the fear of the unknown, to reports of Jesus’ resurrection and some random sightings of the Risen Lord, and then to the realization that this was indeed true. Could they believe it?! Did they dare to believe it? What did it mean for them and for the rest of the world?
Following the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus the apostles experienced incredible things in Jesus’ Name. They taught and healed with boldness; they spoke of Jesus to the Jewish authorities; and they lived with remarkable joy and peace. The 1st lesson today shares a bit of the story as they lived together for a while sharing their possessions and their food with one another. It’s a curious text that shows how the resurrected Jesus and the Holy Spirit gave them courage to do things they would not have done before this. It wasn’t out of coercion or by law that they did that, it was out of the pure joy of the Christian faith. They wanted to help and share. There was the belief that Jesus would return soon after He ascended so early Christians didn’t feel they needed long-term investments.
The Gospel also talks about the joy of the followers of the Risen Christ. When Jesus appeared to them, showed them His hands and His side, still bearing the wounds of the crucifixion, the disciples rejoiced. The joy they felt must have been incredible! The crucified and Risen Christ standing before them! It was true!
We have heard this story many times. We have shared the excitement of Easter over and over. What makes this such a joyful event? Do you feel the joy of Easter more this year? What difference does this make in your daily life as you think back on the fear during the past year?
To be honest, probably not much has changed in one week. But the Easter joy is hard to escape. When a person stops for a moment and thinks about what difference Easter makes in our lives, the joy has to be there. We are living in hope. We are living in the Promise of God in Christ that has been fulfilled. We can’t replicate the joy that the presence of Jesus, risen from death, brought to the early followers. We can’t understand what they must have felt to have had Jesus crucified and buried in a cold tomb of death. And then to discover that all He promised was true! He was truly alive! Nothing we can do will replicate that feeling.
And yet, when we sit by the bedside of a loved one who is critically ill, fighting for life and health, and when we are at the true end of our earthly life and face our mortality, or when we are faced with difficult life circumstances that require a huge change, we know we are not alone. The Risen Lord is within us, within our loved one, giving us strength and courage to face whatever the future brings. Our Lord, our GOD, lives and has us and our loved one in His loving hands.
We have, in a sense, gotten used to Easter. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact it is essential for us as Christians to know that Christ is alive. Incorporating Easter into our everyday lives means believing the story the first witnesses told us. It means knowing deep down in our hearts that whatever happens, we belong to the Risen One who gave His own life for us. This allows us to sit at the bedside and not lose hope. It allows us to face death and know that the Victory has been won and we have an eternal home. It allows us to face our fears knowing that Jesus walks with us wherever we go and whatever befalls us.
The joy I felt last Sunday as they crescendo of worshippers built over the three services, was just a release of the fears of Holy Week, the strange and dark year we have gone through. It was knowing that Christ is alive, that HE reigns supreme over death and the grave, over sin and the devil. That joy was just the pinhead of the joy that we have gotten used to, that we will feel, and that is ours as the free gift of salvation has been given and shed for us. That is the Pure Joy of Easter. That is the peace that passes all understanding. That is the hope of the future for all believers.
HE IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.