The May Epistle: From Death to Life

The recent bombings in Sri Lanka are fresh on our minds.  The awful news was heard by many in America as we prepared to attend Easter services.  The Christian victims of the bombings died for their faith in Jesus. It seems like a senseless act that targeted innocent people.  Was it meant in retaliation? Did it seek to instill fear as a terrorist act? Who was involved and are there more attacks to come? Investigators from many countries including our own FBI are on the ground in Sri Lanka trying to find those answers.  We pray for the families of the victims, for the perpetrators, and for the country of Sri Lanka.

Another death that is still in our thoughts today is the death of our Lord Jesus, which we remembered on Good Friday.  The death of Christ has a different feel for us. It did not seek to instill fear, and it was not a senseless death. It was a death with a purpose, and that purpose was to bring life – specifically, to bring life to people who were dead in their trespasses and sins.  St. Paul writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Jesus’ death brings life.  We see him agonizing and suffering on the cross.  We are spectators as Joseph and Nicodemus work to get the body down from the cross before the Sabbath begins, laying it hastily to rest in Joseph’s own, new tomb.  We smile inwardly as we listen to those who triumphed over Jesus ask Pilate for soldiers to guard the tomb. And we break into joyful song as we look with the women past the stone and into the empty tomb and hear the angel pronounce the good news that our Lord is risen from the dead!

We like to read a book or watch a movie where the protagonist triumphs over adversity.  I suppose we enjoy it so much because we somehow get to live the story. As we do, we vicariously experience the pain and hardship of the character, even feeling the same emotions if the story is well-told.  What brings us such joy in the Easter story is not just that it is well-told by the eyewitnesses. What excites us and delights us is that it’s our story.  The death that Jesus died he died for you and for me.  “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).  And the resurrection of our Lord proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sacrifice for our sins and the payment for our guilt was complete. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12) and “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

The same cry of “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” that we cry on Easter and throughout the year has sounded from the lips of Christians over the centuries.  It was as they were singing the praises of our risen Lord that the earthly lives of the worshipers in Sri Lanka were taken from them. But, as Paul says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

This life is transitory and fading away for all of us.  But “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:35-36).  And then he himself rose from the dead.  What he said is true.  The joy of Easter is that, because he is the resurrection and the life, because death could not hold Him, death will not hold us.  The joy of Easter is the joy of our own resurrection to eternal life. And in this we have peace and in this we have real and sure hope.  And nothing, and no one, can take that from us.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

- Pastor