Easter Sunrise Devotional 2010

Easter Sunrise Service / 7:30 a.m. / 4-5-10 / Bellingham Covenant Church

When I was asked to share a devotional for this service, I tried to think of a funny story about an Easter celebration from when I was young.

I wasn’t able to think of one.

But I can share with you what Easter meant to me as a child:

Every year at church, they would give the children colored hard-boiled eggs. I remember sitting in the pew for the rest of the service, cradling the cool egg in my hands. I don’t really remember any of the Easter sermons I heard growing up.

But my parents made sure that I understood what Easter was about. Although I did participate in things like Easter egg hunts, my parents always emphasized that Easter was about Jesus’ resurrection. This began with my first birthday. My first birthday was on Easter, and my mom made me a cake in the shape of a lamb.

Another way they did this was that instead of getting an Easter basket filled with candies, instead it would be a Spring Basket. I’d get it on March 21st, the first day of spring, instead of Easter.

I’m glad my parents made a distinction between the ways Easter is celebrated sometimes, and the real meaning of Easter.

We live in a time and a culture where there is a memory of Christianity, but it is very weak.

Because it is so weak, Christian celebrations like Easter and Christmas get diluted. Christmas becomes about giving gifts to loved ones, instead of God’s gift of his Son. Easter becomes about spring as the celebration of new life in the natural world, instead of about celebrating Jesus’ conquering death with his resurrection.

An interesting tradition that I learned about when I lived in the Czech Republic was the pomlazka. It is a whip made out of willow branches, and traditionally boys are supposed to whip girls on the day after Easter because it was thought that this brought youth and health – besides being a good excuse to flirt with girls. Another tradition is dousing people with water. This also was supposed to bring youth and health.

Every country has traditions like these, but they don’t have anything to do with the reason why we as Christians celebrate Easter.

So why do we celebrate Easter? There is one main reason, and two other reasons that flow out of it.

1. Jesus conquered death. Some churches teach that Easter is about Jesus’ teaching living on in the hearts of his followers. But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Jesus has not been raised, our faith is worthless. Sin has brought death to every human being who ever lived, and Jesus’ resurrection means that sin has been defeated. Death has been defeated. Death didn’t just take its hands off Jesus for a little while; Death’s hands were broken. This is in contrast to Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead in John 11. Death took its hands off Lazarus for a while, but it came for him again. When Jesus rose from the dead, death never came for him again.

Another way that Jesus’ and Lazarus’ resurrections were different is the kind of body they had. Lazarus had the same body he had always had, and he needed people to take the grave clothes off of him when he came out of the tomb. By contrast, Jesus had a new body that mysteriously used up the material of his old body. He was able to pass through solid objects. He didn’t need to have the stone rolled away. It was for our benefit. So we could see that he had overcome death.

2. Jesus will raise us from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection means that if we have faith in him, we will rise from the dead the same as he did. With the same kind of body he had.

One of my favorite Easter songs over the past few years is a song written by my friend, Ben Keyes, called “From the Grave.” The chorus goes:

Hallelujah we will rise again
Angels, roll the stone away
Lord has raised his Son
Victory is won
He’s gonna call us from the grave

The verses are on this same theme, of God’s raising us from the dead. One verse goes:

I want to work in your kingdom
Give me back my hands
I want to work in your kingdom
Roll the stone away for me
I want to clap my hands in glory
Give me back my hands
I want to clap my hands in glory
Roll the stone away for me

At the resurrection, we’re not going to be playing harps on clouds. We’re going to have resurrection bodies, and we are going to be working in God’s new heavens and new earth.

3. Jesus’ resurrection also means that what we do in our lives today matters. Matter matters. Paul talks for 57 verses in 1 Corinthians 15 about the resurrection. In the very last verse of that chapter, verse 58, he follows all that indicative with an imperative. He tells the Corinthians what all that talk about the resurrection means for them: “Therefore… stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

I can’t say this any better than N.T. Wright said in his book, Surprised by Hope:

But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are – strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God. God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there (208, italics original).

I don’t remember any Easter sermons from when I was growing up, but I remember what my parents taught me:

Jesus conquered death.

Because Jesus conquered death, we will rise from the dead.

Because Jesus conquered death and he will raise us from the dead, how we live our lives matters.