When I was growing up, every year we had to go the cemetery and pay our respects to the ancestors. It was based on the Chinese calendar and almost always ended up around Easter. There we would give an offering of rice, an orange, an apple, a shot of tea and an alcoholic beverage, and light candles and incense. We would also take some fake paper money and burn it. They used to have “Heaven Bank Note” or “Hell Bank Note” printed on them and by burning it, it was symbolic of it going to them.
Now I know many of us today don’t practice that. In fact, there are probably some who would be freaked out going around to different cemeteries and doing it. But as a child, that wasn’t the freaky part. Some of the cemeteries, especially the old Chinese cemetery, were filled with tall grass and brush and were very hard to traverse. On top of that, many of the graves had caved in and the ones that hadn’t, many the names were worn off the markers. There were big dips and even holes all over the cemetery and I was always afraid of where I stood or walked. Why? Because there was a time when the ground did give in and I thought I was going to fall into the nether world and join my ancestors.
Death is one of the most misunderstood parts of life many of us struggle with. As Christians, we have faith in our eternity – that through Christ we will spend eternity with God and be with all our loved ones who knew Christ and have gone before us, but the whole thing about death and the resurrection is confusing? What does it mean? There were many people living at the time of Christ who didn’t understand either.
Today, there are many skeptics who see the Resurrection as a fable: a made-up story by a group of religious fanatics who wanted to promote their leader’s teachings by saying He was still alive. There are others who see the Resurrection as impossible – once you’re dead, you’re dead. There are many in our world who will try to convince us it never happened. In light of this day of remembrance, in light of this opportunity to celebrate, how can we respond to the Resurrection?
The Resurrection is the most important event in the entire Bible. Paul in 1 Cor. 15:14 says, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” As significant as Christ’s death on the cross was, His Resurrection is many times more important. To be forgiven is one thing, but to know the great enemy, death, has been conquered gives us hope and assurance that what Jesus did and what He said He was going to do are true!
I shared Sunday morning about three ways we can respond to the Resurrection. We looked at this miraculous event through the eyes of some of the people who were there when it happened: John, Peter, and Mary Magdalene. Each one provides us with a unique viewpoint and help in understanding how we see the Resurrection. For this short examination, we will focus on John and the simplicity of faith. In our sharing here, we will look at John’s response.
When you stop and think about it, the Resurrection isn’t that complicated. Jesus rose from the dead… it’s simple, right?
Now before we look at how John reacted to the Resurrection, we should get to know him a bit. To put it bluntly, John was a bit of a hothead. He and his brother James were nicknamed, the “Sons of Thunder.” At one point in Jesus’ ministry, John wanted an entire community burned up because they rejected Jesus and in another instance, through their pushy mother, he wanted the prime seat in Jesus’ kingdom. He doesn’t seem like the most prized follower, but in the end, he was the disciple known for the love Jesus had for him. And when you take the time to look at his letters, you see a man whose life was transformed by that same love he experienced and which he called Christians to express to one another.
It is interesting to observe how John reacted when he arrived at the empty tomb. There was no doubt or questioning. I think many of us would have expressed questions like, “What happened?” or “Who did this?” But John didn’t question what was happening – he saw the stone rolled away and the empty tomb. He knew! Jesus was alive. He had risen from the dead!
As human beings, we tend to complicate things all the time. We, as adults, are notorious for that. We can take simple events and try to analyze them to death. The Resurrection is no different. I was once at a church business meeting where for 45 minutes, there was a discussion on the meaning of one word. It was the word, “discretionary!” Everyone was saying the same thing but from a different perspective. In the end, I said “goodbye” to 45 minutes of my life that I would never have again.
How many of you have purchased a house? How many of you actually read through the forms they had you sign? Probably not many. Why? Because of the jargon and terminology they use. Maybe it makes them feel smart?
Pastors and theologians can do the same. That’s why we have so many divisions and denominations in the Body of Christ. Baptism and Communion are prime examples of how simple things are made complicated to the point where churches will separate themselves over them. The Resurrection is pretty simple to understand – Jesus rose from the dead!
I was reading a story of a woman who following an Easter Service in 2003, approached a pastor and asked, “So what happened with Jesus after the resurrection?” The pastor responded, “Well, He ascended into heaven and He’s still alive sitting at the right hand of the Father.” She looked puzzled and responded, “I know He was resurrected, but is He really alive?” The pastor repeated his response emphasizing, “Yes, he’s alive.” The woman was amazed. “Alive? Alive? Why didn’t you tell me?” For the next two weeks, she telephoned everyone she knew and exclaimed, “Jesus is alive! Did you know He’s alive?”
John’s response was the same. The stone was rolled away! The tomb was empty! John’s conclusion? Jesus rose from the dead! That is why I believe we have so much to learn from children. Their approach is simple. Jesus said we needed to approach Him like a child. John arrived at the empty tomb and immediately thought Jesus is alive. I think we need to see the resurrection with the same kind of faith and simplicity.
We know that in each of lives, things aren’t that simple. Our lives may be complicated and full of questions. But in spite of those questions, I want us to be assured that we can still come to Him in faith. He understands our pain. He understands our confusion, He understands our lostness.
So what should our response be to the Resurrection? In the end, knowing that Jesus has come for us and called us by name should send us running with joy. Easter is a celebration that Jesus has conquered death. Easter is a celebration that Jesus has accepted us. Easter is a celebration that we have a hope that is above and beyond any circumstance we may experience in life. Praise be to God! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!