Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Joy of the Resurrection Renews the Whole World

Today is the holiest of all days. No other celebration matches it for sheer joy and wonder, for on this day we proclaim that Jesus has risen from the dead! Today we celebrate his victory over sin and death.

Because of the festivities surrounding Christmas in our culture, we can sometimes mistake it as the most important of Church feasts. Though Jesus' birth is an important event, it was only the beginning of the saving work of God had planned for us in his Son. Even Christmas does not outshine the brilliance of Easter, because it was to rise from the dead that Christ was born.

Even the events we have celebrated over the past week - Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday - are only steps along the way to this great day of rejoicing.

Today, we remember how the disciples, devastated by the cruel suffering their master underwent and fearing for their own safety, discovered that the tomb in which he had been lain was now empty. At first, they were confused. Had someone stolen the body? Who could have taken it? Then the angel appeared to declare to them that Jesus was now alive. He was not to be found among the tombs of the dead, but he now walked among them. In fact, after passing through death, he was now even more alive than they were and would appear to them so changed in appearance that they would barely recognize him.

Why is this day so much more important than all the other feasts we celebrate? Among every event of human history, why does it have such a prominent place? Because it is the fulfillment of the purpose for which we were created.

Each of us was created with an insatiable desire for God. We live our lives with a sense that there is something more than what the world can offer us. Sometimes we try to satisfy ourselves with food, alcohol or empty entertainment thinking they can quiet the hunger of our spirit. But they inevitably leave us feeling even emptier than before. Even noble pursuits such as friendship, education, the fine arts and athletics give us only temporary fulfillment. We wake up the next day with the feeling that there must be something more. That "something more" is God himself.

And so we measure the value and purpose of our lives not in dollars, not in trophies and not in possessions, but in faith, hope and love. Outside of the love and knowledge of God, nothing has meaning.

At the same time, we have pushed God away. Since the first day of creation, we have settled for cheap substitutes of the glory he has prepared for us. And so we have been subjected to the power of sin and death. The deepest desire of our hearts - everlasting life with God - was taken away from us. But the Father promised that he would send a Messiah to save us - someone who would deliver us from death and restore our relationship to God.

That someone is Jesus. By dying on the cross, he took upon himself the punishment we deserved for our sins. By rising from the dead, he offered us the hope of everlasting life. Now we no longer need to live lives of frustration chasing temporary and fleeting pleasures. Now we can welcome the desire of our hearts - Christ, who is risen from the dead. And we no longer need to live in the fear of death, because God holds out for us the hope of everlasting life through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

That gift of faith is already ours in baptism. Baptism seals our heart with the gift of the Holy Spirit and floods our soul with the new resurrected life of Jesus. If that hope seems far away, all we need do is ask Jesus to reawaken within us the power of our baptism. If our hearts feel like an empty tomb, all we need do is ask Jesus to fill them with his life and joy. The God who suffered a shameful death to save us will not deny us the joy of his victory if we ask him with sincerity and faith.

Baptism is the gateway to this everlasting life and joy that Jesus' won for us through his cross and resurrection. And so, on this holiest of days, we now turn to the waters of the baptismal font. Some of us were baptized as babies and others as adults. But we all need to be reminded of the promises we made that day - to reject sin and to believe in Jesus. Embraced by the wonder and glory of this day, let us renew our baptismal vows with deep meaning and ask God to bring to perfection in our lives the power of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

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